Album Review: Yonatan Gat – Universalists [tak:til; May 2018]

Found sounds and field recordings have become prevalent throughout contemporary music. Anna Clyne’s Chicago Street Portraits, Henrique Eisenmann’s Jeneupti and even Fleet Foxes’ latest album Crack Up, all use rough and raw audio to create intriguing musical contrasts and comment on our relationship with culture and society. Yonatan Gat is another of these explorative composers, and field recordings are a binding agent in his experimental sophomore LP, Universalists.

The New York based guitarist and bandleader builds the album upon shifting sands, but his trio featuring drummer Gal Lazer and bassist Sergio Sayeg, is its true and solid foundation. Each musical development is packed with energy, sometimes perceivable through the trio’s physical garage rock crescendos, at other times, the delicate and spacious interludes Gat curates.

The tender track “Post-World”, constructed around the achingly beautiful acapella voice of Mallorcan farm worker Catalina Mateu, emerges out of a challenging and intense freak out. The sounds of gamelan gong are juxtaposed with acid rock, choral recordings brutally mangled within abrasive sound environments. Each contrast Gat arranges is startling, gripping and absorbing.

Through Universalists, there seems a desire to form real and lasting relationships. “Medicine”, for example, is a recording made in collaboration with the Eastern Medicine Singers, a pow-wow drum group whom Gat met at SXSW festival. The story goes that Gat heard them play outside the venue before his set and invited them to improvise with him. They initially declined, but after the first song of the set, were hauling their equipment into the venue to join him. Their hypnotic drums and chants are sensitively paired with electric guitar and tuned percussion. The composition drifts with an effortless fluidity, feeling far shorter than its five-minute run time and indicating Gat’s genuine appreciation for the drummer’s unique talents.

Universalists is certainly a provocative work. Depending on your nature, you may find passages of it unlistenable. But, it is undeniably purposeful, creative and diverse. Gat, Lazer and Sayeg make inspired contributions, Lazer’s rhythms are an unmissable presence, but Gat can also tone things down, demonstrating a subtlety that makes his work most interesting.