Music

Eli Keszler's 'Stadium' Is a Warm, Jittery, Percussive Delight

Photo: Brendan Burdzinski / Courtesy of the artist

The ninth solo record from avant-garde percussionist Eli Keszler shows him combining his typically dazzling percussion with unique soundscapes.

Stadium
Eli Keszler

Shelter Press

12 October 2018

As album titles go, Eli Keszler's latest, Stadium, seems particularly incongruous when compared to the peculiar, brainy, jazzy music it represents. The inspiration came from Keszler's recent move from Brooklyn to Manhattan. "After we moved into our East Village apartment," he explained, "we found a guitar pick on the floor that read 'Stadium'." A bit of an idiosyncratic manner on which to hang a title, but Keszler has never been one to follow traditional paths. The Massachusetts-born percussionist is a noted visual artist, sound installation creator, musical educator, and – as Stadium reiterates – highly accomplished and innovative musician.

With Stadium, he's following along the same lines as his excellent 2016 album, Last Signs of Speed. Both albums work with a unique combination of intense drumming and sparse, often dramatic sound design. The album opens with an appropriate Keszler primer: "Measurement Doesn't Change the System at All" begins with a subtle synth bed before a sparse, playful bass line accompanies Keszler's dizzying, razor-sharp, lightning-fast drumming, which is played on a small, economical jazz kit. The instrumentation has an intoxicating effect, with a variety of sonic blips weaving in and out. As with previous albums, Keszler adds a healthy dose of non-musical sounds to the mix, in the case of this track, random bursts of what sounds like the flow of water (whether it's sampled or organic is difficult to tell).

Within that first track, you could parse out the mission statement of Stadium. But by no means should you stop there. Stadium is full of intense, soothing, melodic moments. While "Lotus Awnings" appears – initially – to continue along the same lines of the track that precedes it, intermittent bursts of brass punctuate the arrangement, acting as a counterweight to the lazy woodwind patches that run through the song.

There are occasions on Stadium when the vibe is one of almost whisper quiet, where the drums are more subtle, and the effects seem to take over. "Which Swarms Around It" is classic ambience, creating as oasis of calm, albeit an odd calm. "Flying Floor for U.S. Airways" is similarly structured, but the drums (along with some loose, "watery" percussion) are a bit bolder and present.

Within the structure of Stadium, there are plenty of surprises. "French Lick" is led primarily by a sort of wobbly trombone sound that gives the album some uncharacteristic mid-album levity. "Was the Singing Bellowing" is a haunting track with a backdrop of echoes and effects that sound like they were lifted from some ancient dungeon. "We Live in Pathetic Temporal Urgency" is Stadium in slow motion, wherein Keszler eschews the manic tempi for a more loose, casual, almost ballad-like jazz feel. The synths and dramatic low-register bells fall in line, allowing the composition to breathe.

It's important to note that Stadium should not be classified as an "electronic" album, despite the occasional antiseptic nature of some of the sounds. The album was all recorded live with acoustic percussion and instrumentation, and the synthesizers all seems to be of a more organic, retro mode than most of Keszler's contemporaries. This type of setup allows for unique textures and an overall mood that seems to focus more on feel and less on melodies or easily identifiable riffs. Call it "jazz noir".

Eli Keszler's music occupies a unique but imaginative space on the experimental music landscape. Despite its unusual approach, it's warm, deeply felt, not all that dissonant, and oddly calming. Stadium is a quantum leap forward for its genre – whatever that genre may be.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.