Fly Pan Am C’est ça

[Constellation; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: noise pop, experimental, shoegaze
Others: A Sunny Day in Glasgow, m b v, Glifted, Outhud

Fifteen years and nearly as many projects between them, Fly Pan Am is still somehow a vivid working entity unto itself. There is more of a traditional song form (plus death metal caterwauls where they have no earthly business) happening on their return, but the disruptive quality that the group has always excelled at renders this genre accessibility compellingly suspect. One gets lulled into a false sense of rock music security, only to have that comfort zone throw up on itself in disgust. They are blessed with a Neu-like discomfort with leaving well enough alone in a mix. Sometimes, you get bored and the only tolerable rock is the kind that sabotages itself when it could crescendo or just locks into place for a long “endless straight.”

After a scritchy, squirming overture (both intro and portent to temperament), C’est ça pinwheel-flits into what could be the most bracing perma-grin gazer since Pinkshinyultrablast gave us “Ravestar Supreme.” But the honors here ought to go to the more trance-like material. “Discreet Channeling” in particular hits on that old soaring Constellation drama (with dueling howl/sing vocals here), but not without first bouncing you into a squeezed hyperspace somewhere between delirium and wonder, for most of the track. The vocal effect employed in this section is not dissimilar to that of Radwan Ghazi Moumneh’s in Jerusalem In My Heart. The larger presence of vocals in general could so easily have been a deal-breaker with a band whose vitality is so tied to distancing effects, but the vocals here are decidedly catchier and the modes less post-rock hymnal. These songs won’t necessarily get stuck in your head, but the swerving asymmetry to C’est ça has you clinging to these hooks like handles on a speeding train.

Another new development is that this one leaves you wanting more, where previous albums really took their time messing with you. I originally discovered Fly Pan Am after a long, tireless dive for music like or affiliated with Slint, and their knack for curated chaos broke me out of that ornate moping imperative as much as it fit into it. I recall blaring the dense, disorienting Ceux Qui Inventent N’ont Jamais Vécu (?) on headphones as a sort of endurance test. It’s only a few minutes longer than this one, as is the slightly more similar N’Ecoutez Pas, but those albums seem a bit more crude and ill-tempered in their disposition (à la Oneida or This Heat). The comeback has this happy/gone mindset that whisks away the listener as it batters them with blotchy, impertinently tactile obstacle. It’s not quite glitch, but perhaps the enjoyment that develops from craning in to that sort disjointedness is the same.

It’d be easy to plainly recommend this album as a well-rounded offering of groovers and blissouts. More head music. And they pull these bells skillfully, though the material works fine with a substance-free noggin. C’est ça is probably this project’s most readily enjoyable release. Yet, the fact that they never forsake the mastery of the band’s curiously sweeping-to-tentative intrigue thus far marks this comeback as a decidedly welcome one. Their sound is alive. It’s a flash of spinning light, sequin-skimming-paw-flex plush and the good kind of queasy. Like when the steps aren’t clear, but you’re happy for the momentum as you tumble into being for the moment. It’s impressive to find this group still stressing that fabric as they refine the patchwork, all while presenting a fine starting point for those who missed the boat the first time ‘round.

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