Since art pop collective the Bowerbirds essentially went on extended hiatus after the release of their third full length The Clearing following the building of an at home recording studio and the birth of Phil Moore and Beth Tacular's son, I've often wondered what the other members of the duo turned moresome. The most obvious was Moore's casual glide from The Clearing's synthier moments into the electronic pop of his Tushka moniker. Perhaps the most delightful surprise was the discovery of drummer/percussionist Yan Westerlund's new project Quetico.
Outside of his work with Bowerbirds, I've largely been familar with Westerlund as a backing member of a number of other Triangle area bands like Lost in the Trees, Mount Moriah, the Rosebuds, but also Westerlund's collaborative project Canine Heart Sounds (who also make up the backing band for his fellow drummer brother Joe Westerlund's Grandma Sparrow project), Quetico was my introduction to a project with Westerlund fully at the helm and his debut album Man Alone are the fruits of that particular labor.
With percussion based projects on the rise and those in particular that blend percussion with electronics like Ian Chang, Greg Fox, and Max Jaffe, Westerlund's subverts expectation through neither relying too heavily on electronics or purely on what he himself can do. Westerlund handles a great deal of what you hear from electronic and standard drum kit, various electronic keyboards, and piano but also enlists Matt Douglas on baritone and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet with Matt Peterson from Canine Heart Sounds and fellow former Bowerbird Mark Paulson assisting live.
Quetico is rooted, by admission of its genre tags, in r&b, hip hop, and jazz but there's moments like the soaring "Jeanne", the emotive expanse of "Father Lenny" or cascading "The Dark Waters" that seem deeply invocative of Westerlund's folk foundations. Man Alone essentially seeks to marry these folk and electronic dalliances with hip hop and jazz inspired rhythms and the result is something not entirely classifiable through genre alone. The fact that Westerlund felt the need to speak through so many different instruments in his compositions is pretty indicative of the complexity of influence, inspiration, and aspiration. Purely an instrumental project, piano serves as Westerlund's primary vehicle for establishing melodic ideas with synths more as means for exploration of timbres.
Though it's not entirely clear how long it took Westerlund to compose and record what would end up as his debut album as Quetico, it's a record that rests strongly on the merits of its musical ideas. At times recalling classical minimalism, while almost always imbuing each song with the sense of open air freedom reminiscent of folk, Man Alone is a testament to Westerlund's ability to navigate his various musical hats and offer up the ones most resonant with his selected style of delivery.
Man Alone, the debut full length album of Westerlund's Quetico project is out now. You can listen and down it via Bandcamp.