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Photo by Jacob Wayler

Lee Bannon: Pattern of Excel

On his latest album, left-field garage producer Lee Bannon emphasizes his true sonic passions with moody ambient pieces and glitchy soundscapes.
Lee Bannon
Pattern of Excel
Ninja Tune
2015-07-10

Though it’s a significant departure for the producer, Lee Bannon has hinted at the direction he would take with his latest record, Pattern of Excel, for some time. 2013’s Alternate/Endings was his most left-field and mature release, an expansive reimagining of garage beat music that placed focus on the ethereal sounds behind the beat rather than that immediate, visceral force. On Pattern of Excel, Bannon pushes this style to its logical conclusion by slicing off all the overtly conventional fat he typically dabbles with and instead emphasizes the true root of his sonic passions, from moody ambient pieces to abstract sample-based trials to glitchy soundscapes.

Sadly, Bannon’s ambient music struggles with a staggering lack of presence that his heady breakbeat programming never failed to accentuate. Pattern of Excel is marred by impatience. Opener “Good / Swimmer”, though it impresses with some erratic electronic sounds, dissolves at the height of its tension into an acoustic groove that itself fades away after a few short seconds; the quiet industrial ambience of the minute-long “dx2” barely has enough time to sink in before evaporating into the next track; the repetitive guitar pattern of “Shallowness is the root of all evil” falls away before even making an impression. These truncated drone experiments succeed in unbalancing the album, making it feel uncomfortable and dissatisfying, but the tracks also lose all sense of connection to each other, so much so that it almost begins to sound like an abstract sound effects samples record.

Part of Bannon’s misstep may have to do with lineage: hip-hop beat music is meant to be short and sweet. The genre’s immediacy makes it particularly prone to feeling repetitive after more than a couple minutes. Ambient and drone music thrives on space. Bannon keenly navigated that necessity on Alternate/Endings, where tracks slowly evolved around his static drum loops. On that album, only three tracks ran below the four-minute mark; here, where that room to move is imperative, there are nine songs that end even before hitting three minutes. Awkwardly stuffed into tight, compact nuggets, too much of Pattern of Excel dissipates into smoke.

It’s only once “inflatable” hits in the middle of the album following a haphazard mix of atmospheric drones and aimless studio experiments that Pattern of Excel begins to exhibit any perceivable signs of structure. “inflatable” follows more closely to Bannon’s Alternate/Endings ethos by once again distorting the drum and bass sound that he’s known for, this time with glitchy background samples, dense compression and thick layers of reverb and delay.

But after that sudden burst of energy, Bannon of course takes another left turn. On “DAW in the Sky for Pigs”, the album’s longest piece, Bannon lays out a sparse piano arrangement, slow, grim and melancholic. The rest of Pattern of Excel seems to follow that trajectory toward more acoustic and gloomy sounds, by far the most effective section of the album, though not exactly innovative. It’s here where Bannon truly removes himself from the aesthetic of Alternate/Endings and his earlier works, and the results are far more compelling than the aimlessness of his ambient sketches.

The more human, analog-sourced sounds of “DAW in the Sky for Pigs” and the following tracks — the guitar-based “Disneµ Girls” and “SDM” — suggest that, over the course of the album, Bannon intends to lead the listener from the sonic dimensions of the mechanical and spiritless to a more organic and human realm, or to even equate them. But while it’s tempting to ascribe Pattern of Excel the solidity afforded by those kinds of narratives, in the process of actively listening to the album, it’s clear that nothing Bannon consciously invents is more powerful than the lurking sense of randomness invading its every moment. Indeed, that is one of Pattern of Excel’s only explicit, consistently observable virtues.

RATING 5 / 10
PopMatters