Essential New Music: Setting’s “Shone A Rainbow Light On”

When someone drops the word “rainbow” into their album title, they set up some expectations. If your imagine conjures hopes of Deep Purple-derived heaviosity, Shone A Rainbow Light On is a serious red herring. But if you are tuned into sound’s capacity to uplift, the four-part debut LP by Setting is at your service.

The North Carolina trio comprises banjo/keyboards/percussion player Nathan Bowles (Pelt, Black Twig Pickers, a host of solo and duo endeavors), harmonium/synthesizer/zither player Jaime Fennelly (Mind Over Mirrors, Peeesseye) and drummer Joe Westerlund (Califone, Megafaun, Sylvan Esso). Their genesis lay in recurring household jams between Westerlund and Bowles, which gained focus and dimension after former Chicagoan Fennelly set up shop near Durham. 

If you catch Setting in concert, you’ll see each member surrounded by gear, pivoting from one instrument to the next as the music flows. While their collective multi-instrumentalism opens a lot of doors, Setting’s sound is quite specific, having more to do with collective effect than any particular component. In Mind Over Mirrors, rhythms arose from Fennelly’s bellows-activated harmonium; being the latecomer in a combo of drummers seems to have freed him to concentrate on continuously morphing textures, which in turn give Bowles a surface upon which to layer more long sounds.

Organ, synthesizer and harmonium chords melt together into a cloud of sound so substantial that, at times, the banjo and drums are a barely perceptible presence within the keyboards’ harmonic cloud; other times, they seem to dance on top of it. Westerlund’s playing is light and open, so the grooves simultaneously propel with purpose and propose new directions for sonic investigation.

It’s tempting to reference some classic 1970s forebears—Can, Brian Eno and Alice Coltrane all come to mind—but it’s maybe more relevant to reference a contemporary fellow traveler. Like Oren Ambarchi, Setting plays hypnotic, long-form music that’s historically aware, but feels immediate and fresh.

—Bill Meyer