If you measure the time that elapsed between recording and release, this band has surely lived up to its name. The newest material is six years old, the oldest nine, and it’s been four years since guitarist Lee Ranaldo stuck one short track by Glacial on his solo album Maelstrom From Drift. But what can you do when your guitarist is/was in Sonic Youth and your drummer (Tony Buck) is in Australia’s The Necks? The app has not been devised that’ll reconcile those agendas, which is why years can pass without this still extent ensemble playing a gig.
But On Jones Beach is worth the wait. For a start, it fills a very limited niche; there’s a lot of room next to Slade on the bench reserved for hard rocking bagpipe jams, and that’s exactly what this LP/DL serves up. Glacial’s third member is David Watson, a New York-based, New Zealand-born bagpiper who has proved his versatility by playing with Highland-style marching bands, improvising vocalist Shelley Hirsch, and ex-Gastr Del Sol guitarist David Grubbs. His presence instantly sets this ensemble apart from Buck and Ranaldo’s respective adventures with other improvisers because there’s no denying the bagpipes; love or hate ‘em, you have to deal with them. And even if you are immune to the line-up’s novelty, you might well be persuaded by its marvelous balance between restraint and exuberance.
Ranaldo doesn’t exactly go nuts here; he’s too aware of what the music needs to showboat. But he does play with abandon and blessed variety, teasing long low tones into rib-rattling whale cries, sprinkling classic SY chimes over Buck’s patiently evolving shuffle, and spearing the wall-to-wall drone with sharp, singing notes. Both he and Watson are quite capable of filling a room with mortar-powdering sound on their own, but they never cancel each other out here.
Perhaps being a low priority has worked to Glacial’s advantage. The record didn’t come out until someone came along who really wanted to do it, and it shows in attention lavished on the physical product, with its nicely cut 140-gram vinyl and the understated beauty of the silk-screened sleeve. But, much as I hate to say it, you’d likely end up playing the download version more, since it includes 20 minutes of bonus live performance, as well as an unedited version of the studio improvisation that spans both sides of the LP. And while the prospect of over an hour of improvisation involving a piper and one of the world’s most patient drummers might make more than a few folks mop their brow, the music will make you forget to check your phone.