Sonar with David Torn - Vortex

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

Personnel - Stephen Thelen: guitar; Bernhard Wagner: guitar; David Torn: guitar, live looping, electronics; Christian Kuntner: electric bass; Manuel Pasquinelli: drums.


The Swiss progressive quartet Sonar - guitarists Stephen Thelen and Bernhard Wagner, bassist Christian Kuntner, and drummer Manuel Pasquinelli - releases their fourth album, Vortex, in the good company of David Torn, an illustrious guest whose skills make the difference. Besides producing, the singular guitarist adds his shimmering electric spasms, live-looping, and electronic manipulation to reinforce the awesome blend of flavorful art-rock and minimal groove.

Stratified sonic layers are astonishingly controlled and prone to work denseness and steadfastness throughout. Heavily stimulating, “Part 44” throttles with an unflagging rhythmic undertow while exhibiting interlocking guitar instrumentations whose vibes relentlessly oscillate between the ethereal and the free-floating. Despite a certain featheriness in the groove, this composition, originally penned by Don Li, arrives sturdily anchored to the alternative side of the rock genre, investing in haunting atmospheres through gritty guitar effects that encompass distortion, vibratos, string scratching, and sustained piercing howls.

The first track whetted my appetite, but “Red Shift”, a prog-rock hymn with three distinct sections, made me rejoice. Obeying an odd meter, the piece throws a groovy punch with a strong funky flavor into the rock, stimulating robotic movements in our bodies. A posterior atmospheric passage wields bass pedals, drilling guitars trills, and crystalline harmonics. This spectral illustration shapes into a rock-solid figure with the introduction of noncommittal noise and the steering force of bass and drums. After all, these guys are diligent carvers of contemporary aesthetic forms and speak according to their genuine worldview.
Bearing a folkish semblance in the recurrent melody, “Waves and Particles” are supported by soft textures and adorned with Torn’s soaring waves and vertiginous manifestos. 

Juxtaposed ostinatos delimit “Monolith”, forming a sophisticated relation between time and space. Flaunting a funk-rock feel, the unhurried bass works in tandem with the drum chops, having entangled guitar explorations atop. Highly- combustible, the reaction ratchets up into the big flames of tonal creativity.

While the title track, a tritone harmonics composition, advances with a relaxed yet remarkably syncopated pulse before veering to an industrial rock-inflected marriage of bass and drums, “Lookface!” is a completely improvised, rock-oriented piece, which, not eschewing those powerful bass lines that hooks us in the groove, comes buoyed by the guitarists' collective work and propulsive rhythm.

Torn’s blasts, arches, and suspensions decisively enrich the sound of the quartet. Their mutual fascination for sonic textures is contagious, and I found myself exploring every minute of this well-weaved tapestry of polyrhythmic rock lustiness and groovy backgrounds. Vortex is a masterstroke that treats sound with prestige.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Part 44 ► 02 – Red Shift ► 06 – Lookface!