Even if you hadn’t been told up front that Frontera came about as a collaboration between cherished Montreal post rockers Fly Pan Am, lighting designers United Visual Artists (UVA) and Animals Of Distinction, the innovative contemporary dance troupe led by fellow Montreal native Dana Gingras, a cursory glance at some of the song titles on the emotional record, (such as Parkour, Body Pressure, Scaling and, um, Parkour 2), should have given you some indication of the direction the album would take, dealing primarily as it does with motion and the urban landscape. Nimble and inquisitive in their unique approaches, it’s genuinely a surprise to learn that this is the first time someone had thought to pair the various mediums together.
After a string of emotive releases on the Constellation label, run by their hometown friends Godspeed You! Black Emperor, between 1998 and 2004 followed by an extended hiatus, this is only the second release since the group’s welcome reformation in 2019 and that year’s spectacular C’est ça LP. As with all releases on the label, before you can even grapple with the heartbreaking orchestrations within, the outer artwork is utterly gorgeous to look at. Drenched in vibrant photography and printed with UV matte varnished inks, Frontera is a glossy affair and a far cry away from the hand stamped cardboard sleeves of yore.
Conceived as an eight movement narrative, featuring 10 dancers from Gingras’ ensemble and dealing with notions of the temporal fluidity of national borders and the intrusions of surveillance, the immersive performances, with the band performing live, were momentarily halted due to the pandemic. As lockdowns began to lift, Fly Pan Am camped out at the label’s infamous in-house studio Hotel2Tango with engineer Radwan Moumneh to lay down the score. Godspeed’s David Bryant was also brought in to lay down some field recordings for the live dance performances.
So what of the music? Surprisingly contemporary, whilst it’s certainly not their dreaded Trans or even their attempt at a Kid A (what an ourobouros that would have been), it does find the supercharged multi-instrumentalists stepping out of their comfort zone and flirting with motorik beats and contains flashes of anxiety inducing, electronically disorientating art rock, the sort of thing that recalls the headier moments of Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. Much like the crossings it refers to, passages of sound come and go erratically, swirling one moment and crashing to a standstill the next. Desolate airstreams clash with marching drums on Grid / Wall and chainmail barriers shake intimidatingly under tension on the appropriately titled Fences. Brooding insect noise ripples through Scanner, and Frontier is a worthy ancestor of Remain In Light’s The Great Curve with its hints of dystopian automation.
Shining a searchlight on new terrains for themselves, Fly Pan Am have generously quenched our insatiable appetite for revealing non linear melodramas. Causing a staggering commotion, this sometimes inscrutable, yet eminently danceable, album is a passport to uncover alien customs and engage in orgiastic corporeal activities.