Roy Montgomery
Grapefruit Records
GY 8-1
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1Apparition (with Haley Fohr)
2Rainbird (with She Keeps Bees)
3Outsider Love Ballad No 1 (with Katie Von Schleicher)
4Mirage (with Purple Pilgrims)
5Sigma Octantis (with Julianna Barwick)
6Landfall (with Liz Harris)

New album by the celebrated New Zealand guitarist legend (Pin Group, Dadamah, Dissolve) who in the past 40 years has released records on Flying Nun, Kranky, Drunken Fish and VHF. Feat. vocal contributions from Haley Fohr (Circuit Des Yeux), Julianna Barwick, Liz Harris (Grouper), Katie Von Schleicher, Purple Pilgrims (Clementine and Valentine Adams) and She Keeps Bees (Jessica Larrabee).

Despite praise and acclaim throughout his career, Roy Montgomery hates his singing. From his point of view, it’s done out of necessity, when he doesn’t have anyone else around to substitute. So it goes, when you live on the side of a mountain just outside Christchurch, New Zealand’s rehabilitating city center. Roughly one quarter of Montgomery’s epic multi-album 2016 release R M H Q had his singing, and those are his least favorite tracks.

We’ve been doing the best we can to argue that his basso undertones are the center of his appeal throughout his entire body of work, from the first The Pin Group single on Flying Nun in 1981, through his work in Dadamah, Dissolve and on to his legendary ‘90s solo releases. Without his thick layer of Ian-Curtis-from-the-Isles singing, many of his songs would lose their humanity and power. He no doubt senses that, since his sporadic bursts of music writing mixes in his vocals.

Is it a surprise he jumped when the idea of composing an album for other vocalists came up? The idea began as a series of alternate takes of the material on Tropic Of Anodyne, the tracks with vocals off his last release. That concept morphed into assembling vocalists to sing on new songs, and he conceived instrumental material that would fit each singer. Half of the songs came together, resulting in Suffuse. The album charts a slow progression from those who share similarities with Montgomery’s rumbling vocal technique to those who come at singing differently, with minute contrasts throughout. Haley Fohr (Circuit des Yeux) and Jessica Larrabee (She Keeps Bees) bring the first two tracks, with Larrabee’s low-riding lament complementing Fohr’s stinging vibrato. Katie Von Schleicher’s “Outsider Love Ballad” is a raw expression of emotional loss, while the sisters Clementine and Valentine Nixon (Purple Pilgrims) express that emptiness by stripping away words, weaving their voices together through Montgomery’s elastic webbing. Julianna Barwick adds drive and nuance to the foamy sonic waves of “Sigma Octantis,” as “Landfall” crashes in slow motion chaos over Liz Harris’ (Grouper) multi-tracked layers. Montgomery wrote lyrics for the first three, and left the other three to their leads’ devices.

Regarding Suffuse, Montgomery says, “I continue to find it humbling listening back to the tracks, both for the beauty and intensity of the voices, and for the sheer professionalism. They actually sound like real songs.” These compositions generously embrace their guest leaders, and for the first time in his career, Roy Montgomery has made a cogent artistic argument as to why he shouldn’t be singing these songs himself.