Joshua Van Tassel: Understar
Backward Music

A very promising prologue to a forthcoming full-length (that purportedly will augment its music with a short story and visuals), Understar is the latest release from Nova Scotia-born electro-acoustic composer Joshua Van Tassel, whose last album, Dance Music: Songs For Slow Motion, was selected as the ‘Electronic Album of the Year' at both the East Coast Music Awards and Music Nova Scotia Awards. Issued on the Halifax experimental label Backward Music and created at Van Tassel's own Dream Date Studio, the EP features four tracks oriented around the story of a Giant Squid and a trajectory that includes its deep space origins, subsequent absorption into a Black Hole, and eventual appearance in one of our own planet's oceans.

“Birthrite” takes little time establishing the project's cinematic scope when strings, beats, and slide guitars build into a huge, loping colossus. It's a heady, even explosive blend of post-rock, prog, and classical that immediately leads one to think that the full-length will be as if not even more epic in its reach. Initially restrained, “Passage” exudes a palpable noir-like quality in its late-night trumpet playing before a charging beat pattern emerges to push the music to ever-increasing heights of intensity and drama; an abrupt change occurs towards the end, however, with a hip-hop-styled beat pattern twisting the tune into radically different shape. The style carries over into “All Cosmic Colour” and the dreamily melodic title track, whose MPC-styled beatsmithing invites comparison to the kind of material issued by a producer like Dday One on the (C)ontent Label. At seventeen minutes, the EP's over fast, but Van Tassel's music covers a lot of stylistic ground in a short amount of time. Perhaps by design, each setting presents a slightly different portrait of this ambitious artist, who's seemingly got ideas and imagination to spare.

December 2015