The debut from St. John’s Big Space takes listeners on a dizzying jazz-rock journey that demonstrates the band’s technical chops and dynamic creativity.
Coming in at just under fifty minutes, In Relation To, the debut album from Big Space, is a rousing flurry of instrumentals integrating aspects of jazz-rock, post-rock, and math-rock that showcase the St. John’s trio’s potential. The record is meandering, both to its benefit and occasional detriment, but throughout its runtime, In Relation To never fails to produce moments of skilled instrumentation and lightning-fast motifs.
The opening track, “Almost Everything,” features a mischievous bass line that is greeted by a smooth and upbeat guitar melody. The drumming takes the spotlight in the song’s final third with Fargo-like solo that allows the song to breathe and brings some much-needed variety. “Triptrap” is even more technically impressive, featuring airy guitar plucks and sweeping glides — though the funk breakdown in the latter half of the track is somewhat colourless. In Relation To is further complemented by the impressive solo and reverberating choruses of “See Through.” A tonal shift occurs with “After Words,” establishing an air of uncertainty fitting of the album’s artwork. As quickly as it appeared, the uncertainty disappears with “I Was Looking For You There,” a pleasant acoustic stroll that once again demonstrates the band’s instrumental talents.
“Monochromatic” reintroduces the album’s jazz-rock theme, though the song is at times indistinguishable from previous tracks. It’s at this point where the record would have benefitted from richer, deeper, and more varied production. Though their live-music feel is undoubtedly part of Big Space’s charm, In Relation To can occasionally sound somewhat sonically flat and muted. More dynamic mixing and mastering could have potentially amplified the group’s technical prowess. Seemingly in response to this critique, the album moves into “Relevator,” one of its strongest tracks. The song features the same infectious energy as the opening track, accompanied by tense palm-muted guitar rises and a catchy melody. “Ships” is slower and more reflective and a fitting transition to the record’s closing track. Big Space saves the best for last: “Coupla Nights” is certainly the most vivid and resonant track on the album. It opens with a soothing and calm atmosphere that quickly disappears with a wailing and spacey guitar melody.
In Relation To certainly does not disappoint. It is a comfortable listen and a technically-impressive one at that. That also presents its biggest flaw: it is somewhat too comfortable. There are times where swelling crescendos seem around the corner but never arrive, where dizzying solos approach their climax but fizzle out. Should Big Space continue to build on this sound with richer production, a tighter runtime, and greater acoustic diversity, à la “Coupla Nights,” then the future holds great potential for the trio.
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