It’s hard to imagine Saxsyndum sounding any bigger and more complex than on Second Nature.
Saxsyndrum’s name, when you think about it, is a mission statement. The portmanteau combines saxophone, synthesis, and drums and hinges on the middle ingredient. Synthesis is what makes Saxsyndrum so exhilarating to experience, but crucially, the meaning of “synthesis” will never be set in stone as long as Nick Schofield (drums, synths) and David Switchenko (tenor sax, synths) continue their fruitful collaboration. Since the release of the astonishing Future Circus in 2013, Schofield and Switchenko have not put out a release that sounds exactly like anything before or after it. With their SXD_EP, “synthesis” was splitting their sound in half; with Second Nature, “synthesis” now includes a third member, AP Bergeron.
At first, adding a vocalist seemed like a head-scratcher for a band that creates such a kaleidoscope of textures and moods, but vocals do not turn Saxsyndrum into a pop band. Bergeron’s breathy vocals only add another layer for Switchenko and Schofield to play with. Indeed, in some songs you will only hear Bergeron vocalize and not form words. The saxophone, percussion, and synths also feel like vocalists at times thanks to their interplay, so words aren’t strictly necessary.
Second Nature gives the trio even more room to breathe with its six- and eight-minute selections. The longer run-time turns “You Get High” into a two-headed beast — the first half is buoyant, with staccatoed bursts of saxophone and a dark, lush cavalcade of synthesizers, but eventually mellows out when Bergeron sings “and you come down,” mirroring the crash after a high. “Maceo” does a lot in six minutes, at times feeling like an arena-rock anthem as interpreted by Saxsyndrum and elsewhere sounding like the theme to an intergalactic voyage.
There’s surprisingly palpable emotion in every song. “Up To You,” previously released as a single, is as “pop” as Saxsyndrum will ever get: a joyous sax riff, twinkling synthesizers, and Bergeron pouring his heart out, especially in the chills-inducing way he sings “It’s more than a feeling/It’s beyond all conceiving/I was losing all meaning as I spoke.” Although the honest lyrics make that song so tender, “Phantasy” feels just as vulnerable without any intelligible words. It’s hard to describe the saxophone “solo” in the middle of the song as anything but heartfelt; it is a love story told without words. “Let Go” is reminiscent of being trapped in a dark, sweaty nightclub, while “Arp” sounds more spiritual, especially with Bergeron humming at times.
It’s exciting to think about what “synthesis” will mean to Saxsyndrum after this album. It’s hard to imagine their sound getting any bigger and even more complex, but as their career has shown thus far, they seem to never run out of surprises.