I first encountered the hypnotic Brooklyn-based instrumental duo 75 Dollar Bill at Café Oto in 2017, shortly after the release of their second record Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock. They closed the set with a piece not featured on that collection: ‘I Was Real’, a morphing, propulsive twenty-minute monolith of a song, elevated to even more remarkable heights by its unique coda – during which some rather strange things started happening with the fabric of time.

Already bewitched by an exemplary storm of notes from guitarist Che Chen, the audience then sat rapt as multi-percussionist Rick Brown moved to the fore, hauling the sound to calmer waters with an imperiously strung-out fade to silence. At ease on his trademark plywood crate, Brown sat completely absorbed, somehow inside the rhythm, at one point teasing only the tiniest of sounds from a shaker. In the growing quiet, the room’s every breath and clank and creak became acutely intensified. Minutes took on the profile of hours, and Brown that of an amiably scruffy monk, leading us in percussive prayer. Then, with the briefest of upward glances, he was done; setting down his instrument; turning to Chen and smiling warmly; accepting the stunned applause from the floor. I’d never experienced anything like it during a live performance – but then, 75 Dollar Bill aren’t like other bands.

‘I Was Real’ is the title track and the centrepiece of the duo’s highly anticipated third album. Recorded over a four-year period, and with some of the songs dating back to their earliest sessions, I Was Real sees 75 Dollar Bill increase their range of instruments beyond the core setup of guitar, drums and drones: saxophones, viola and extra electronics, including “signal processing,” are all listed here, played by an able cast of Chen and Brown’s musician friends. But fans shouldn’t fear this expansion: like everything the duo does, it is carefully considered, never compromising the signature sound at its centre. And what a sound it is.

Once again taking his sonic cues from a mixture of Middle Eastern, West African, South-East Asian and American blues traditions, Che Chen’s guitar voice is simultaneously reedy, coppery and astonishingly lithe. It provides both foundation and filigree on I Was Real, lingering on particularly juicy phrases or fragments – before moving on, as these pieces always must. Because, for all their incantatory qualities, 75 Dollar Bill are primarily about movement – or rather, they are about the tiny, barely noticeable changes that accumulate and coalesce to make movement possible. This time, they strive again to perfect the balance between classic-rock chops and ferocious intricacy: laying down typically enormous wedges of groove on tracks like ‘WNZ#3’ and the three-track suite ‘New New/New Worm/Like Laundry’, while studiously avoiding “jam session” territory – some feat, given I Was Real is also 75 Dollar Bill’s longest album to date at 68 minutes.

That extra time in fact allows them to rustle up some palate-cleansers between the larger servings. Those lucky enough to have seen the band live will already be familiar with their brief and blistering run-throughs of obscure blues tracks, and a similarly playful tone prevails at times here. ‘C. or T. – Verso’ is a tricksy epilogue to the monumental Can-referencing opener ‘Every Coffee or Tea’, using what Rick Brown describes as “spare parts” from the previous song; and ‘Tetuzi Akayama’ is a comparatively brief, funky tribute from Chen to the titular guitar master. Far from cluttering proceedings, these tracks showcase a lighter side to 75 Dollar Bill than their gnomic song titles and epic run-times might suggest.

This is still dense music, yes, but crucially it never alienates over its epic 68 minutes: you can drop in on this record at any point and still find a good time. As such, I Was Real feels like the band’s most thorough examination of itself yet – and is all the more satisfying as a result.