A brooding sense of instability sets in from the outset of A Boat Upon Its Blood. Rattling percussive clicks emerge from the crevices with a warm glow of electronic drone filling the barren soundscape. Around the midpoint, the audience is granted an element of melody but the uneasy darkness remains ingrained in every developmental move. With each song, bass saxophone player Jason Sharp continues to disregard comfortable resolution, utilizing the captivating nature of dissonance to its full capacity. Sharp also displays a mastery of texture throughout the record. Just as the bass saxophone lurks in the background as a simple cog in the machine, elements of ambient, electronic, and acoustic musical practices all circulate throughout the project with no single element taking over the majority of the focus.
Bookended by two long-form pieces, the record dives into a slightly more dynamic pair of tracks in the middle. In doing so Sharp avoids formula, again feeding into the idea of instability. “A Blast at Best,” the second of these tracks, offers the most direct assault on the ears. Every moment in this track is filled with abrasive sounds: from fuzzy blasts of distortion to screeching saxophone and violin sounds, Sharp truly puts all his cards on the table. This is where track listing comes into play. From the beginning, the album breathes intensity; however, it also leaves room for growth by reserving the most chaotic elements until the second half of the album. Following this loud outgoing burst, Sharp returns to long-form ideology on “Still I Sit, With You Inside Me.” Violin grasps the spotlight for eight minutes of heart-wrenching melodic work before the second part of the piece moves into hopeful bliss and a final push into the anxious intensity so present throughout the project.
Similarly to the final piece, the first lengthy composition is split into different tracks. In both cases the musical ideas melt into each other quite cohesively; however, contrast remains a vital component. “A Boat Upon its Blood Part 1” sets the dramatic tone for the space that follows, but an immediate crunch of dissonance hits at the beginning of part two. In the final section, the dissonance settles for a moment before a tense rhythmic motive ensues. Because of the nature of drone music, it is fair to consider that listeners might not pick up on the fact that the first three tracks are meant to be under one umbrella with the fourth track sparking the beginning of a new idea, but behind these contrasting aspects of each track lies an element of connection. In “Part 3,” rhythmic activity emerges from the remnants of the dissonant drones of “Part 2.” Obviously this signifies a change, but it also provides a nod to the first portion of the piece and its rhythmic intensity. On top of that, as “Part 3” continues forward, drones of electronic dissonance make their way into the soundscape and succeed in bridging all three tracks into one space.
This idea of “cohesive yet dissonant/contrasting” can also be applied to the individual songs. Returning to “A Boat Upon its Blood Part 2,” the crunchy dissonance accomplished on this song is mostly enacted by the upper register. Played by acoustic string instruments, the raw droning notes juxtapose the clean electric tone of the bass part, adding even more shock factor to the dissonance. On the next track, “In The Construction of the Chest, There is a Heart,” a similar contrast occurs. Here, scratching rhythmic motives work alongside screeching electronic drones, making for another polarizing relationship.
What it comes down to is the balance of blending and clashing. Sharp has a wide-ranging field of sound at his fingertips and his longer pieces showcase his knack for long-standing development, but by varying track lengths, and approaches to rhythm and sound pallet, the album successfully surprises throughout.
– Review by Donovan Burtan