New music video featuring the single "Keith"
KNOW YOU ARE - album liner notes by Josh Kimbrough
"Ahhh, Yan Westerlund. Just typing the name brings a smile to my face. I remember meeting Yan at a house party soon after he’d moved from Wisconsin to North Carolina in 2009. The KFC Double Down was the new, unreasonable, fast-food gimmick at the time. We promised each other we’d eat one together someday. That never happened, thankfully, but we did become housemates. When we lived together he’d often sit at the piano and work on melodic fragments. One thing I remember is how he’d put his whole body into it when he’d play. As if the feeling was just as important as the notes.
By 2019, these fragments had been fused together and fleshed out. The first Quetico album, Man Alone, was realized. What a complete thrill it was to hear that album for the first time! It has wonderfully idiosyncratic arrangements, heady polyrhythms, and delectable melodies all swirled into a nine-song feast. Once the album was out, Yan impressively found a way to bring his intricate and elastic compositions to the stage with a trio. A string of celebratory shows in NC, MN, and WI followed. The music was shared with new friends and old. The performances were fierce and joyful and masterful. In 2020 the show offers were still coming, but the pandemic started to hit. Yan hunkered down to focus on recording projects and charge his creative batteries.
Fast forward to the 2021 NBA playoffs, Game 2 between Yan’s Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. Yan invited me over to watch the game. During that visit, I discovered he’d been busy doing two things while quarantined: collecting an army of assorted plastic figurines (mostly 90s basketball players), and writing a new Quetico album. He played me the title track, “Know You Are”. I closed my eyes and let the tempest of notes wash over me. I love how music can hit so hard in those moments, when a friend is vulnerably sharing a fresh creation with you. The track gave me chills! The term “ear candy” kept popping into my head as the song played. There were surprises around every corner. An 8-bit sound effect here, a keyboard swell there, delightfully off kilter beats, and (new to the Quetico palette) killer saxophone lines and textures.
As I sit writing this in Jan of 2022, I’ve been listening to the full album, Know You Are, for two weeks straight. I have to say, it’s simply life-giving. Yan is funny, and Yan is tender. You hear these facets in the music. That saxophone I mentioned is fortunately present on many other of the seven tunes. It’s performed by Tim Sullivan, a childhood friend of Yan’s. Yan’s always liked how he improvises “straight from the gut”. Tim contributes saxophone to some tracks and flute to others.
The album is also graced with Mark Paulson’s inspired string arrangements. Mark is another musical figure who’s been important to Yan for years. Yan and I have bonded over our love of Mark’s band from the early aughts, Ticonderoga. That band could knead soulfulness and dissonance together in the most brilliant way, not unlike Quetico. Yan and Mark have chemistry, and the album is extremely well served by Mark’s layers of strings.
I want to take a moment to talk specifically about each tune and how they make me feel. The record sucks you in, right off the bat. Track one, “Know You Are”, leads with a triumphant horn line. The beat is skittery and restless. I close my eyes and I’m on a mechanical bull ride. Two thirds of the way through we get a taste of strings, a quiet moment, and then a satisfying saxophone outburst. Things end suddenly, leaving us wanting more. Track two, “Worship Team”, is a song lifted from the Canine Hearts Sounds repertoire. There’s plenty of space here for Tim to dance around on sax. There’s a lightness to the tune. The beat saunters along. I feel like I’m walking on the moon as I listen. Who needs the metaverse, when you have Quetico? Next up, “Awanas”. There’s a new age quality to this one. A jazz fusion quality as well. The drums pitter patter along in an odd meter, at a brisk pace. This is one of the tunes where the strings really shine. At one point, video game glitches are woven together with Mark’s titillating rising glissando moves. It’s one of my favorite moments on the record. The album takes a slightly somber turn with “Putnam Heights”. Another one of my favorite moments comes in this song. Two thirds of the way through there’s a break. Yan’s chimes lead us back in along with a sputtering space echo delay. I feel like I’m ascending into heaven. “Keith” has a pensive vibe. Pensive, but hopeful. This one makes me feel like I’m walking around, looking for signs of life in a post-apocalyptic world. The round and stark piano tone is sweet and lonely. “The Oracle Sings” is triumphant sounding. Tim is really letting loose. The climax with piano arpeggios reminds me of The Bad Plus. The final track, “Story Lords” is playful–it leaves things on a lighthearted note. Shaker, triangle, and flute set the stage. I’m imagining myself on a tropical vacation. Can you hand me my Piña Colada, please?
There’s a quote from The Matrix that puts this album’s title in context, “Don’t think you are, know you are.” Morpheus gives this advice to a doubtful Neo. Yan has found inspiration in that line over the years.
Know You Are is a perfect name for this album. When I listen to it, I feel invincible. The listening instructions I can offer: blast this in your car with the windows rolled down. Bask in these tunes. Forget your troubles and your doubts for a while. Lose yourself in the soul-stirring Quetico universe."
- Josh Kimbrough