New York-based percussionist and visual artist Eli Keszler guides you through the exotic darkness with an album that overflows with chaos, noise, and order.
“(Eli) Keszler’s work presents several paradoxes. A percussionist with roots in punk rock and free improvisation, he fuses chaos and order in his drumming.”
-- Steve Smith, The New York Times
Albums centered on drumming can be a dicey concept. First of all, they may have limited appeal beyond drummers. Second, the harmonic limitations of most percussion instruments may be all too apparent in the final product. But if well-executed, a percussion-based album can yield fascinating results to the open-minded, musically adventurous listener who can appreciate the level of skill it takes to “hit stuff".
Boston-born, New York City-based Eli Keszler already has a leg up on fellow drummers who stand front and center. The percussionist/composer/visual artist often combines his live performances with installations and visual elements, and while this doesn’t literally translate to an audio-only release, he already goes into a recording project with the understanding that atmosphere is everything.
Far from being simply a one-hour drum solo, Last Signs of Speed is a musical journey full of tension and catharsis. On a purely technical level, Keszler -- a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music -- is brilliant and the tracks brim with lightning-fast rolls and fills around “traditional” kits as well as far more exotic percussion. Opening track “Sudden Laughter, Laughter Without Reason” combines rapid fills with tuned percussion like steel drums. It’s a relatively safe scene-setter, but things get downright bizarre with “Corresponding Probably to Quanta". This is where the atmospherics begin to take over. The deliriously-paced rudiments are paired up with effects that sound like crinkling paper, giving the impression of someone stumbling around a drum kit in the dark while trying to locate an important utility bill (the paper rustling -- apparently a favorite sonic trope of Keszler’s -- reappears in other tracks like “No Iodine, No Breeze”).
On certain occasions, the eerie environment places the percussion on the back burner. “The Immense Endless Belt of Faces” begins with a creepy ebb-and-flow of ambient chords, establishing a foreboding vibe, before Keszler’s familiar rat-a-tat comes in. “Breaches Breaches” also features random backward tape loop effects that work hand-in-hand with the percussive noise.
The closest cousin to Last Signs of Speed is probably Mobile, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche’s debut solo album from 2006. Like Keszler, Kotche is a restless experimenter, and while Mobile may be a bit more disciplined, the similarities are bountiful. It also helps on both these albums to have a healthy obsession with the art of percussion (full disclosure: I’m a drummer myself, which may at least partially account for my love of both albums).
The drumming may come first on Last Signs of Speed, but on tracks like “Fusillade of Colors", bell-like chimes and semi-musical groans act as guideposts for the listener. It’s odd, it’s a bit scary, but Eli Keszler is willing to take you all by the hand to lead you through an exciting, vibrant darkness.