AMN Reviews: Thisquietarmy x Away – The Singularity, Phase I (2020; Utech Records) & The Singularity, Phase II (2021; Utech Records)

This pair of releases from guitarist Eric Quach (Thisquietarmy) and drummer Michel Langevin (Away) has been on my “listen to” list for a while. As Singularity, Phase II hit a number of 2021 best-of lists, it was time to give them a shot.

Finding a contextual reference point for the collaborations of Quach and Langevin is tricky. Elements of drone, soundscape, free improv, kosmiche, and metal are easily identifiable. But to lean on a cliche, the sum is greater than the parts.

Langevin will surprise you. His drumming has a solid rock grounding, with double-bass patterns that would be familiar to anyone who has heard his work with progressive thrash band Voivod. But while his beats are repetitive in a motorik fashion, he modulates their rhythmic structures throughout, exploring tone, dynamics, and assertiveness.

Quach is a textural guitarist who makes generous use of effects. He generally eschews heavy riffing (though he does not completely avoid it), instead offering up multitracked waves of processed sounds. Thus, his style could be compared to that of Robert Fripp, David Torn, and the more ambient aspects of Colin Marston. Nonetheless, he explores a wide range of structures, including chording that resembles walled noise.

Putting these elements together, Quach and Langevin provide a set of tight improvisations. The sound is full and constantly evolves in terms of tempo and heaviness. There is a certain trancelike quality of these tracks, in that they repeat enough to establish a groove – until they don’t. The strongest pieces are the longer ones (~10-15 minutes in length) where both musicians stretch out and allow urgency to be expressed in an unhurried fashion.

The irony is that these albums could all too easily fall between the cracks – too improv for the metal fans and too metal for the improv fans. But to these ears, Quach and Langevin have hit a sweet spot that perfectly incorporates the best of both styles.