The experimental drummer channels New York City on this jazz-influenced LP.
As a virtuoso drummer working in electronic music, Eli Keszler has few peers. His playing, whether restrained and precise or unruly and turbulent, displays a fascination with texture and timbre. Though he uses electronic sounds, acoustic percussion is at the core of what he does. It gives his music a physicality that makes his improbably detailed rhythmic patterns seem multi-dimensional. Even when employing a minimal sound palate, his music is elaborate and unpredictable. These qualities have made Keszler a go-to percussionist for Oneohtrix Point Never, Laurel Halo, Rashad Becker and other experimental artists.
His new album, Stadium, was influenced by a recent move to Manhattan. It exudes both calm and chaos, reflecting the city's intensity with tightly controlled swarms of rhythm and movement. Keyboard and mallet instruments create mysterious backdrops to that urban density. Though the drumming mostly retains its acoustic characteristics, Keszler uses the drum software Sensory Percussion to generate digital bass sounds or sampled claps, as on "Lotus Awnings." This obfuscation of the synthetic and tangible reflects the city environment perfectly, where the lines between what is designed and what is spontaneous are blurred.
While Keszler's approach has evolved several times in the past decade, he's consistently drawn from jazz in different ways. On earlier albums such as Catching Net, that influence was expressed mostly through the lens of free improvisation. Keszler used techniques to explore the limits of the sounds that can be produced by cymbals and drums, the results of which often emerged as overwhelming flutters of percussion. On Stadium, he draws from fusion and '70s post-bop fed through contemporary ambient and avant-garde. Keszler's IDM-esque rhythmic patterns merging with these elements recalls Squarepusher's Music Is Rotted One Note, though Keszler is more subtle and subdued.
For an album that is so busy and concentrated, Stadium is hushed and unobtrusive. The skittering patterns on the snare rim and what sound like empty glass bottles on "Flying Floor For U.S. Airways" are quiet enough to require close listening to discern. The LP's final track, "Bell Underpinnings," is defined by empty space punctuated by mallet percussion, miniature electronic blips and barely-there kick patterns. The album fits well among other Shelter Press releases, including the highly textured ambient music of Félicia Atkinson, who runs the label.
The history of recorded music inspired by New York is vast, but Stadium occupies a unique perch in that lineage. It echoes certain aspects of the environment that come into focus when stepping back to look at the bigger picture—the movements of people and architecture, the quiet feeling of being alone among countless other people. In doing so, Keszler has been able to turn the overwhelming nature of urban life into something beautiful, and it's one of his best records as a result.
Tracklist01. Measurement Doesn't Change The System At All
02. Lotus Awnings
03. We Live In Pathetic Temporal Urgency
04. Flying Floor For U.S. Airways
05. Simple Act Of Inverting The Episode
06. Which Swarms Around It
07. Fifty Four To Madrid
08. French Lick
09. Was The Singing Bellowing
10. The Driver Stops
11. Fashion Of Echo
12. Bell Underpinnings