Songs Without Words

Choose To Find

Independent release, 2012

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I wonder if the guys in Choose To Find—a quartet of Berklee College of Music grads with a flair for invention—find the whole concept of genre labels as frustrating as I do. Because, you see, as your reviewer for this album I’m obligated to hint at the style and form and sound of their music by dropping familiar terms that this music evokes for me, like jazz-rock or instrumental prog.

The issue with tossing around these kinds of familiar labels is, I’ve never heard anyone else who sounds quite like Choose To Find. Sure, much like CTF, Explosions In The Sky do big dynamic soundscapes with no vocals, but they’re a two-guitars-no-keyboards lineup, and CTF is an acoustic piano-electric guitar-bass-drums quartet, with the piano typically taking the lead. And while I’ve listened to a bit of jazz-rock in my time, I don’t recall ever hearing a group with quite the combination of moody flair and anthemic punch that these guys manifest.

After introducing themselves to me with their self-titled 2006 debut, Choose To Find—composer/pianist Todd Marston, guitarist Colin Sapp, bassist Andy Dow and drummer G. Maxwell—returned in 2012 with Songs Without Words. At least as compelling as their debut, Songs feels that much more confident and accomplished.

At the core of the music lies a gorgeous tension, a sense of burgeoning power barely restrained, until it no longer is. One thing’s for sure—this album may be instrumental, but it’s hardly background music. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Songs Without Words not just earns but commands the listener’s attention with its intricate musical pathways and dramatic crescendos.

This Kickstarter-funded sophomore release begins with a 57-second piano overture, a fitting mood-setter, before moving into “Choose to Find,” a sort of mission statement for the band that builds and swerves and circles back and builds again toward an intense, abrupt finish.

“Winter” follows, a pleasant churn that manages to be stormy and beautiful as Marston and Sapp play off of and sometimes on top one another. Especially in the early going, there’s a sense of space on this track that amplifies every note and moment. Next up, “Stillness” is well named, a soft, haunting duet between piano and drums for most of first two minutes, before Sapp’s guitar begins to assert itself at 3:00, whereupon the song shifts to focus on an aggressive piano melody with the rhythm section circling underneath. Soon after, this multifaceted track accelerates into a dynamic jam, the rhythm section loosening as the piano and guitar tighten.

“Above Water” is a bit somber at first, before executing a strong build to a powerful series of crescendos in the middle portion, where Sapp’s guitar takes the lead for a bit, painting a series of nimble notes and heavy chords across the high end until the others amp it up a notch to join him.  And then it falls back, spent, to a rather elegiac close.

That majestic, somewhat cinematic feel carries through the rest of the album, with subtle variations. “One Place” showcases the rockier side of the group and is also the closest they really come to sounding like Explosions in the Sky with its repeating, guitar-heavy figures. “Joanna” and “Peripheral Vision” both feature nice builds before easing off to quiet finishes. The longest tune here at nine-plus minutes, “Find Yourself Awake” is a great example of telling a story with no words, a three-act number that begins with a rather stately slower section, builds tension steadily through the middle section, and erupts in its last two minutes. Closer “Same Boat” features a nice chiming melody, its repeating figures becoming rather hypnotic until the guitar busts in around 6:00 and opens it up big time for the last minute or so.

Choose To Find choose to describe their sound as jazz/post-rock, which seems fair enough, in that it’s experimental and virtuosic, and built on a hornless jazz quartet foundation, but also propulsive and anthemic in a distinctly progressive rock/post-rock fashion at times. Labels aside, the core question for Songs Without Words remains the same as for any other album I listen to: does it entertain? The answer there is a resounding yes.

Rating: A-

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