CD, 18 tracks, 53 min.
This eponymous 1998 release is the CD debut of Minneapolis’ Escape Mechanism. On it, we find Jon Nelson, the only member of the ‘group’, building on the track list put in place on his 1997 cassette ‘Box of Blue Paperclips’. Listeners familiar with that release will welcome the improved audio quality of the CD, not to mention the addition of a dozen strong new tracks.
Generally speaking, each track is composed with a noticeable economy, making use of few individual elements. This is work where the design of the audio space, if you will, is brought into the forefront. The sources are for the most part looped elements, drum machine grooves, ‘found’ vocals and various effects. This approach succeeds where it leaves a space for its content to rise up and entertain the sonic environment that the mix creates. Where it is less successful is in pieces such as ‘Why does the light fall?’ which presents a familiar loop (taken from the Beatles’ ‘Blue Jay Way’) that extends through the whole piece without relief, which, unsurprisingly, tends to have an wearing effect on the listener.
In other cases where this sort of ennui seems to be just lurking around the next loop iteration, Nelson mitigates through the careful use of his remarkable and intelligent ear for selecting sampled voices and intriguing snippets to wend through his aural landscape. He cleverly draws our attention to the world of the piece through skilful editing and source selection, creating a series of audible passages into often dark, mysterious and poetic realms. Even when the pieces rock — by no means a rare occurrence on the CD — they provide an elegant, dark taste to the bouquet.
Repetition, here, is common, but unpleasant repetition is rare, as the overall tone of its pop-sampled approach maintains attention through an eclectic variety of sounds. ‘Digital Occasion’ provides theory and critique of recorded music from several perspectives layered over an inoffensive rhythm track. ‘Culture’, a stand-out, features a herky-jerky danceable drum machine rhythm sequence as the musical bed beneath a montage of voices, taken from television and edited with a deft sense of timing.
‘Today’, another stand-out selection from this recording, features an intense evangelist who breaths fire and is made to preach in a jazz/soul manner through a simple juxtaposition of his enervating pronouncements carefully placed over a very funky collection of looped musical fragments. In a clever twist, what are apparently intended to be examples of behavior the preacher is bemoaning, come out of his mouth (in edited form) as his own beliefs. It is a polar reversal where, instead of being passionately against certain practices, he weighs in as being passionately in favor of them.
‘Paranoid’ is a perfect found story about ‘the hipster’s disease’; a guy driven obsessively to eat raspberry jello with milk. It is a dark journey though the cafeterias of the big city.
For a debut work to maintain such consistency is worthy of our admiration in itself, let alone the fact that it is a remarkable effort and certainly an enjoyable work. Its haunting sound spaces and clearly demonstrated musical integrity will bring you back for repeat listenings.
• visit www.detritus.net/escmech
The CD can be ordered directly from the above linked site. You can also listen to samples of Escape Mechanism works there.
Review by John Heck and Lloyd Dunn. Review posted March 16, 1999.