Live at Freak Valley
How one responds to Causa Sui's first official live album (issued in double-vinyl, double-CD, and download formats) will largely depend on how many of the band's albums one currently has in one's collection. Completists aside, the listener already in possession of the group's past output will regard Live at Freak Valley as a less essential acquisition than someone coming to Causa Sui for the first time (five of the ninety-minute recording's nine tracks, for example, are live versions of pieces included on the group's previous release Euporie Tide). The listener new to the band, on the other hand, is presented with the opportunity to sample a fabulous summative portrait of the Denmark quartet as it sounded at midnight in the early summer of 2013 at the outdoor Freak Valley festival in Netphen, Germany. For the record, it also should be noted that the release includes material from the entire Causa Sui catalog, including “El Paraiso” from the band's 2005 debut and cuts from Summer Sessions as well as hellacious jams fresh from the rehearsal room.
A great opener, “The Juice” showcases the ease and dexterity with which the group is able to shift between restrained and aggressive episodes. As a general rule, one of the greatest pleasures in listening to Causa Sui comes from witnessing how fluidly the band moves from one style to another. On a typical cut, guitarist Jonas Munk and drummer Jakob Skøtt occupy the forefront, while Rasmus Rasmussen's keyboard contributions (organ more often than not) assume prominence at well-timed moments and Jess Kahr holds things together with an ever-stable bass presence. Causa Sui's trademark psychedelic rock sound is well-accounted for, and there's no shortage of stoner rock moments, too. Munk's in particularly fine form throughout, with the guitarist dishing out an endless parade of wah-wah and heavy, low-end riffing.
“Lonesome Traveller,” the recording's longest piece at fourteen minutes, finds the band working its way through multiple moods and styles, with the wistful pastoral tone of the opening prog-like section giving way to a spacey, free-floating exploration that at times feels on the verge of splintering apart. “Red Valley” and “Homage” benefit from the trippy, Eastern-styled guitar riffs around which the thunderous tracks are built, while the band's grungier side is highlighted during “Boozehound.” Undoubtedly one of the album's best Munk showcases is “El Paraiso,” where the snarling guitar riff with which it begins blossoms into a number of searing displays, some wicked and raw and others more delicate and composed.
That the live performances don't sound radically unlike those recorded in the studio (rabid crowd noise aside) is really a comment on how effectively Causa Sui has been able to capture a dynamic live feel within the studio setting. That's no small thing, either, as the in-studio performances of many bands often pale in comparison to their live counterparts. There are cases, however, where the live version is even more high-energy than the studio original, the fiery “Mireille” and “Homage” two such examples.
Par for a live set, Live at Freak Valley at times lacks the pristine clarity of a studio recording, and some degree of muddiness characterizes some of the tracks. But that in turn brings out the rawer side of the band, again something characteristic of a typical live recording. One of the nicer things about the release is that it convincingly conveys the impression of a complete, single performance as opposed to a live album whose contents have been cobbled together from multiple tour dates. It's a move that gives the recording a more immediate feel and effectively captures the excitement expressed by those in attendance. There's a sense in which Live at Freak Valley, being such a complete statement, feels like a chapter-closer, something that wipes the slate clean and allows the band to plan its next move minus the baggage of the past. It'll be interesting to see where Causa Sui ventures next.