[23 July 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
If you are familiar with Kerry Leimer as the composer and master sound manipulator, prepare to get to know him as the novice tinkerer. As the title suggests, A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975 - 1983) highlights a formative era for the artist who has routinely gone by the name K. Leimer. The kind of music he was doing at this time—minimalism, tape manipulation, textures/layers of various keyboard sounds—was not really a new thing. By 1975, Leimer was already deeply moved by the mysterious inner workings of acts like Can and Cluster. But what was a new concept was the fact that one man, half a world away from the various “scenes” he so admired, could scrounge around in pawn shops for equipment and make equally adventurous recordings without a big budget studio. And with his ambitions, Kerry Leimer began to foster his own little experimental music scene in the Seattle/Olympia area by founding the Palace of Lights record label with his wife. But it’s RVNG Intl. that’s giving us A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975 - 1983), a 30-track, 77-minute stroll through K. Leimer’s archives. Some ideas are strange, others are very compelling. Some barely register as anything.
To call this release eclectic doesn’t do much to describe the quality of the music or what it can do to your brain over prolonged exposure. While it’s true that some of these ideas are taken only partway around the block, the germs inside that idea can be ruthlessly insistent ones. When Leimer was toiling away at recording techniques, trying to nail down that Krautrock sound in the privacy of his own home, he was also stumbling upon some rather sticky themes. Not all of them feel worthy of preservation. Opener “Ceylon” in particular feels harmonically simplistic (when a student would shift their chords up and down a scale, my music theory teacher would call it “Lean On Me” Syndrome). It’s sister track “Porcelain” closes out the collection with a obscured vocal appearance by Nancy Estle. “Explanation of Terms” is seventeen seconds of Leimer (I presume) talking, “Bump In The Night” is a 16-second thud and “Commercial” is an eight-second keyboard doodle. In other words, they probably mean a great deal more to Leimer and his family than the music world at large.
The rest of the collection has the mixed blessing of sounding dated. And while most artists regret having their art labeled as dated, thereby trivializing it, the dated elements of Leimer’s early recordings show an ingenuity that he was able to achieve more than 20 years before amateurs began recording decent-sounding demos on their computers. While time has not been good to digital handclaps, they helped Leimer develop a sense of electronic rhythm on “A Spiritual Life”, “Honey to Ashes”, “Entre’acte” and “Ikumi”. “My Timid Desires” takes percussion cues from another continent, submerging a dreamy motif into rippling waters complete with hollow knocking sounds. On the other end of things, there’s “Lonely Boy”, a two-chord soliloquy with vocals that finds the central character just making stuff up as he goes along: “I’m just sitting alone in this tiny room / Looking at instruments and wondering what to play.”
A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983) is a sketch pad. We can’t really judge this release by the standards to which we hold Kerry Leimer today. In the ‘70s, he was thoroughly chasing a mood. And for the most part, he was able to conjure some unique things. When he wasn’t taking the Peter Gabriel approach circa 1981 (trying to blend complex rhythms with elaborate keyboards), he was certainly doing a bang-up job of channeling his inner Hassell/Eno. The songs on A Period of Review were essential to Leimer developing his own style. Whether or not they’re essential to your music library is another matter.