Not the kind of dance piece your mom dragged you to as a child
Still going strong after returning from their 14-year hiatus in 2018, post-rock group Fly Pan Am is back with a new record titled Frontera. And, believe it or not, you can dance to it.
The group’s first reunion album was 2019’s noisy, disorienting C’est ça. Awash in layers upon layers of Kevin Shields-style feedback and pop melodies, C’est ça was a kaleidoscopic, maximalist piece of experimental rock. Frontera takes the opposite approach by dialing everything back: the arrangements are more stripped down, there’s only one track with vocals and the instrumentation, while still rock-oriented, is largely computerized.
Frontera was created in collaboration with Dana Gingras, the choreographer behind Montréal-based dance troupe Animals Of Distinction (AOD). The music was created for a contemporary dance piece by AOD, and Fly Pan Am was even able to tour with the troupe as their live band during the early months of 2020.
For some, you might groan upon learning this album was written for a contemporary dance piece. But resist the urge to prejudge because this music is anything but sober and subdued. It has more in common with something people would hear in an industrial club than in a sterile concert hall. Tribal drums, warbling guitars, buzzsaw synths and even screaming—this isn’t the kind of dance piece your mom dragged you to as a child.
Frontera is no bullshit, just nonstop physicality. The record kicks off with “Grid / Wall,” which begins only with a growling noise loop and a primitive percussive creep, slowly building in rhythmic complexity. By the song’s climax, Fly Pan Am sounds like they’re on the verge of transcendence, with heavily distorted synths piercing through everything like a purifying beam of light. A lot of these pieces use the same technique of extended tension and release, sounding like miniature journeys complete with rising actions and satisfying payoffs.
The mood is sustained as “Grid / Wall” transitions into “Parkour,” which features an undulating post-punk bassline, a wall of feedback and some raspy screams courtesy of Jean-Sébastien Truchy. It’s intense and relentless, but not “angry” or “menacing” per se—Fly Pan Am isn’t out to attack, but instead to envelope people in their sonic barrage and achieve a more positive sort of catharsis.
Everyone shines on this record, but the tight, punchy drumming by Truchy and Félix Morel nearly steals the show. The best example might be on “Parkour 2.” While the previous tracks take some time to build, this one wastes no time, grabbing listeners by the throat and establishing a fast, driving pulse right from the start. It’s full steam ahead, and by the end, the drumming is at a point of such dogged fervor that it threatens to blow at any moment. It’s the aural equivalent of drug-induced heart palpitations.
Everything comes to a head-on “Frontier,” which closes out the album in the best way possible. It keeps with the pattern of slow-building song structures but takes it to an extreme, spending nearly three minutes turning up the heat. It inches closer and closer toward a fever pitch, which, in one final subversion of people’s expectations, never actually arrives. Instead of the usual ecstatic climax, everything falls apart, and the record ends in a fit of sheer noise, dissolving into entropy.
Frontera is a dance record as only Fly Pan Am could do it. Ultimately, it stays true to the group’s experimental rock roots, but any influence they’ve taken from groovy post-punk and industrial music is more apparent than ever before, and the result is something almost accessible. Their song structures remain challenging, and their love of feedback intact, but their physicality is at an all-time high—even people who don’t know the first thing about post-rock can move along.