All Strange Beasts of the Past

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One of the entries in the Jewelled Antler Library series, All Strange Beasts of the Past balances between six shorter selections of improvisation and a lengthy concluding piece, all untitled. It shows the Thuja collective in good creative health, here focusing on calmer, quieter numbers in general, though hardly lacking in the mysterious, almost antique feeling that pervades their work at its best. Often it's a matter of how it's recorded, but at heart it's down to the performances -- thus, the second track's gauzy feeling, as if heard through a bit of cotton, enhances the instrumentation of plucked guitar strings and distanced drone and especially percussion. As an approximation of a centuries-old field recording, it's deftly handled, coming across like a strange snippet from the back of beyond. Full-on drones help define tracks like the fifth song, as a soothing flow created in part by electric guitar steps forward in its first half, though not without the arrhythmic percussion that marks much of the album in turn. Other songs have a crisper sound to them, or at least less background texture, such as the third track's understated but still active guitar/stringed instrument/drums ramble -- or more accurately cymbals, as soft hits permeate the mix. As for the concluding, nearly-20-minute finale, it understandably compares with the rest of the release, except that being longer it can incorporate everything into one long extended exploration, from a striking percussion breakdown over a slow keyboard wheeze about five minutes in near silence at 13 minutes, the calmest of notes and background sounds leading into a last gentle section. The result makes the album feel like the listener has seen what can be accomplished with a longer improvisation, a nice balance of approaches from briefer numbers.