· By Alexander MacIntyre
Fly Pan Am - Self Titled Album Review
The current state of affairs can be a little overwhelming and I personally noticed that lately I’ve been drawn towards media that explore different, more extreme scenarios of what we’re going through at the moment. Whether it be re-watching films like 28 Days Later, or returning to the more apocalyptic, early entries in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s discography, I found a particular fascination in these “what if?” scenarios. Revisiting the late 90s, Montreal-specific branch of post-rock, one of the lesser-known bands caught my attention in the context of possible alternative scenarios, namely Fly Pan Am and their first, self-titled album. You see, just like Godspeed, the band went on hiatus in the early 00s – unlike Godspeed, however, who came back in 2011 with a tour and new material, and went on to release three new albums since, Fly Pan Am remained silent for all these years. I wondered many times what would’ve happened if they decided to return and share their updated musical vision, what experiences they’ve gone through in the past 15+ years and how would they express them? Currently, however, I’d have to get satisfied with their debut.
The album clocks at around one hour and is divided into five tracks, none of which is shorter than 10 minutes. This makes for an immersive listen where tracks develop slowly, adding new layers to build a narrative and, frankly, giving the album a deep, more concentrated listen proved to be great fun, as I discovered many things that I’ve never heard in it before. The band showcased a deep interest in various experimental musical styles, touching on minimal composition, musique concrète, trance and psychedelic, noise and field recordings, proving to be a group encompassing a true ethos of a post-rock band, that is using instruments usually associated with the Rock genre, but in completely new and redefined ways (anyone interested in the subject, I couldn’t recommend more to pick up a copy of Jeanette Leech’s Fearless: The Making of Post-Rock).
The opener, L’Espace Au Sol Est Redessiné Par D’Immenses Panneaux Bleus, is a great exercise in minimalism, with repeating patterns building up and adding layers, all the while remaining simple in form. That paired up with some Morricone-like guitar licks builds a fantastic atmosphere of embarking on a great adventure. This is followed by Et Aussi L’Éclairage De Plastique Au Centre De Tout Ces Compartiments Latéraux, a fascinating display of the aforementioned versatility with the band going through a full-on menacing, apocalyptic guitar blow-out, noisy synth collage, musique concrète and a funky comedown, all in one track. Next down the line is Dans Ses Cheveux Soixante Circuits, my personal favourite and a real highlight of the album. It’s a stellar example of how to achieve a psychedelic, trance-like experience through the simplest means, a feat that the band achieves through continuous repetition of the most basic musical phrases, or even singular notes. Once your brain gets used to the patterns and starts filtering them out, you begin to hear all the minute details of which there’s an abundance of here (or is there?) and you lose the feeling of passage of time, while questioning your senses. Music doesn’t get better than this.
Fortunately, Bibi À Nice, 1921 provides a much needed moment of respite after all that, with its exploration of field recordings. The image the piece brings to mind is that of breaking into an abandoned factory of some sort, starting with the screechy noise of a rusted gate being pulled open and followed by delicate sounds of analogue electronic machinery. Few minutes of sonic exploration follow, after which there’s a sound of something being lowered on a forklift or a similar piece of equipment. That’s when the band kicks in with a highly frenetic, guitar-driven track that feels like an expression of running away in horror after making a terrifying discovery. All is well, however, as next up there’s a segue into a bright guitar-led outro. It was just a nightmare, or if it wasn’t, you managed to outrun the danger and it’s time to start planning a new adventure.
The album comes to a close with Nice Est En Feu!, which translates to Nice is on fire!, a title that sets the mood. Here the Morricone licks make a comeback, resembling the work of fellow post-rockers Labradford in creating a cinematic soundscape that places the listener in the middle of the titular conflagration. Additionally, this is the first time a voice makes an appearance, in form of a female choir that sounds apocalyptic, while at the same time providing a glimmer of hope. That paired up with a monumental build-up creates a feeling that among all this death and destruction there’s always a chance to start anew.
Revisiting the album made me think about how much creativity there was in a single city at that particular moment. Godspeed is the one that got the most famous internationally, but digging down and uncovering all the other bands from that scene I discovered a collaborative spirit in a whole network of fantastic bands. Hangedup, Hrsta, Fly Pan Am, Godspeed and A Silver Mt. Zion all worked closely together, often swapping musicians and starting new projects overnight. Because of that you can imagine my excitement when I’ve heard the rumours of Fly Pan Am reuniting last year, followed by an official confirmation and a new album announced this year, followed by a tour. Needless to say, you can also imagine my disappointment when the tour got cancelled in light of the current events.
Hope you enjoy their debut effort as much as I did the first time I’ve put it on my turntable and keep coming back to it as much as I do. If you do, make sure to check out their new album, C’est ça and consider picking up a copy, as it must be gutting for these guys to come back with new material and a tour after 15 years of silence, only to have all that cancelled.