Shone a Rainbow Light On, by the new instrumental folk trio Setting, evokes the dark, infinite expanse of the night sky with its shimmering stars. The joint project of multi-instrumentalists Nathan Bowles, Jaime Fennelly, and Joe Westerlund, the album draws upon free improvisation, Americana, and minimalist music to recreate the textures of the murky unknown. The three artists are experts in composing intricate soundscapes out of a few elements: Fennelly crafts celestial drone music as Mind Over Mirrors, Bowles has played for years in the trailblazing psychedelic noise band Pelt, and Westerlund has drummed in the folk-rock group Megafaun and DeYarmond Edison, the early band of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Together, they show that Americana music doesn’t have to be sun-dappled and bright, it can be mysterious and unwieldy, too.

Formed during the pandemic in 2021, Setting began as a series of regular improvisation sessions in Westerlund’s backyard in Durham, North Carolina. Bowles and Westerlund had already been playing together occasionally as a percussion duo, and Fennelly had given them the motivation to all gather while passing through Durham from the North Carolina coast. During the trio’s early sessions they’d jam outside at a distance, letting the wide-open spirit of the outdoors seep into their work. The trio’s songs move in cycles, like a storm blowing through a field, and their instruments often flutter like birds or buzz like insects.

Though Settings’ music sprawls, it feels minimalistic in practice, exploring just a couple of chords like Philip Glass and encouraging deeper listening like Pauline Oliveros. The trio often begins with a few long notes, gradually adding rhythms and other timbres to the mix; their motions are subtle, their music deepening with each added layer. Opener “We Center” feels like a delicate meditation at the start, beginning with soft, rustling noises. Pulsating rhythms enter at a distance and come into view with each repetition. Hearing the song is like looking out at a barren wilderness and noticing, upon closer examination, that it’s teeming with life.

Shone a Rainbow Light On’s twists and turns give each track bottomless dimension. The tense, fast-paced, “Zoetropics” starts with forlorn tones and bustling rhythms; bristling, plucked melodies join the fray only to pull away as quickly as they enter. “A Sun Harp” opens with a series of free improvisations on piano, synths, and percussion, layering patterns that don’t seem to mesh; it grows into an uproar, each instrument crescendoing until it bursts aflame. Their music is at its most haywire, yet by the end, it still returns to a place of calm. The solemn closer “Fog Glossaries” is the most unexpected. The rumbling song sighs out chords, and a chime gloomily marks the passage of time. It’s the darkest track on the album and where the trio’s details feel their most vivid—nature’s thorniness displayed in full beauty.

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Setting: Shone a Rainbow Light On