PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Lee Jones' 'Down Into Light' Is a Minutiae-Scanning Beauty of Minimal Techno

Photo: Courtesy of the artist via Bandcamp

Down Into Light feels like the album Lee Jones was always born to make. He's always had a lightness of touch, but here, his touch is more delicate than ever.

Down Into Light
Lee Jones

Independent

1 May 2020

As an artist, Lee Jones always seems to linger on the fringe of things. Sonically, his music is notable for its delicate qualities, its microtonal precision and attention to detail. His most well-known album is, after all, titled Songs for the Gentle (released as a member of MyMy), and it's still a staple in minimal techno circles 14 years later. He put out his first solo LP, Electronic Frank, in 2008, but since then, Jones, like his music, has been relatively quiet. That's not to say he's been silent, of course. There have been several EPs, including 2011's The Moose Mingles, a thing of deep-house beauty, and 2019's One Grain, which saw Jones take a more downtempo approach. It was his dreamiest, most psychedelic release to date. Per his words on Bandcamp: "After years of playing peak time sets in clubs around the globe I became too focused on a world where everything is turned up to maximum, where screams and hands in the air are the main measures of approval. I was missing something, so I made a return to my downtempo roots."

If One Grain saw Jones tinkering with a more subdued approach, Down Into Light takes things a step further. This new LP, his first full-length since Electronic Frank, is lighter, more buoyant, and more refined than anything in his catalogue. It's beat-driven, most of the time, but not exactly danceable. The grooves here are slow, meticulous, and more for drifting off to than stomping your feet to. The songs are minimalist, but they're anything but simple; on the surface, they may appear simple, but it's the little things going on under the surface—distant static-crackle, muted bass drums, an occasional brass section—that make all the difference.

Nowhere is this attention to detail more evident than on "Sundance", the fourth track. It's quite possibly the finest in Lee Jones' whole discography. On the surface, the song is driven by shakers, a classic house beat and a relatively simple piano melody. In the background, however, rich, fat synths hover in and out of earshot, and a gorgeous clarinet pops in here and there, often lingering on the same note for long stretches of time. These features add both depth and dexterity. They make the track feel warmer, more intimate, but also more limber and playful.

This balance between depth and dexterity is the hallmark of Down Into Light. Many songs feel downbeat and upbeat at once. Take the title track, one of the sparsest pieces on the record. The song kicks off with a mournful four-note piano lead and occasional douses of glitchy static-crackle. But as it progresses, the synths get sharper and brighter, climbing higher and higher in pitch. Coupled with the blissful keyboard washes, this gives the track a take-off sensation. It's like we're building to some sort of epiphany or burst of daylight. A similar thing happens in "Books". Here, we have another minimal groove and downbeat piano lead, but it's the distant clarinet—the way it lightly pokes through the mix, up from under the main groove—that saves the track from feeling barren. It's moments like these where Jones' tact and precision come to the fore. Even the emptiest tracks are far from empty if you're really paying attention.

In this way, Down Into Light feels like the album Lee Jones was always born to make. He's always had a lightness of touch, but here, his touch is more delicate than ever. Tracks like "Glacial" and "Contraflow" have a microhouse-like flavor, with their slow pace, faint textures, and soft, cushiony kick drums. Nothing comes to us bluntly here. Instead of listening to a dance song, it's like we're slowing down to scan the minutiae of it, dissecting and probing every little sound. The effect this has is that no matter how weird or off-kilter a track may sound, its delivery is always graceful. "Empty World" is a prime example. This one is led by an odd rhythm of spiky, clucking drums, but they are played so quietly, so gently, that—coupled with the soft shakers and gently-orbiting pads—the song never feels jarring. It's off-kilter, but never off-putting. One is reminded of those early Basic Channel recordings, where even the strangest and glitchiest of sounds felt relaxing.

The only beat-less track on Down Into Light is the last one, ironically titled "Drone Strike". It's ambient, sedating, but far from an afterthought—the texture here is even woozier than the previous nine songs, full of airy piano and submerged synths. It's a fitting end to a reflective LP, one that was admittedly made during quarantine, while Lee Jones was sheltered in his home in Kreuzberg, Germany. On Bandcamp, he wrote that the album was his "personal reaction to this incredible time". Indeed, it's a time when many of us have more time to slow down and smell the roses—or, in this case, scan the minutiae. In this sense, Down Into Lights feels handmade for a time of deep introspection. As Lee Jones' music turns more and more inward, it just gets better and better.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


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.