The experimental drummer scales back the rhythms to paint a portrait of a lonely metropolis.
Icons, the latest album by the New York City-based percussionist and composer Eli Keszler, is an oblique sonic document of the funereal city. While in the past, Keszler's powerhouse drumming has been the focal point of his records, many of the most memorable tracks on Icons bear only the faintest rhythmic imprint, supplanted by jazzy, plangent melodic structures that might waft through a corporate lobby, unoccupied except for a masked security guard.
De-emphasizing the drumming that's been central to his previous records allows Keszler to exhibit his faculties for melody and mood, which are considerable. From the album's title, to the church bells and choirs that bookend the record, religious motifs are embedded in the album's frameworks. The liner notes hint that these angelic choirs might herald the fall of an empire. But beyond that more epic reading, Keszler's obsession with field recordings portraying a spectral urban soundscape places his music in similar sonic territory to Burial, though this music has nothing to do with the club—or at least any traditional of the Bushwick-Ridgewood techno venues that are now once again brimming with exuberant youth.
On "God Over Money," creepy lounge chords hang in the air over a lurching beat before dissolving into the aforementioned choir samples, the off-kilter trip-hop feel nodding to the New York City illbient scene of yore. The incredible "Civil Sunset" is a crestfallen jazz piece with horns, drum kit, electric piano and some extremely well-placed recordings of a rainstorm. This uptown downer jazz vibe harks back to 2011's Replica, by frequent Keszler collaborator Oneohtrix Point Never.
Tracks like "Dawn," a delicate amalgam of far-off drumming and synths that resemble a chamber orchestra, and the following cut, "Static Doesn't Exist," which sounds like Bill Evans collaborating with an '80s Japanese mallet ensemble, hint at intriguing new directions for Keszler. This new album, made for the well-established club label LuckyMe, might bring Keszler an audience wider than the sorts of people who attend solo avant-garde drum performances. But if he's now part of a new Downtown New York scene that includes the likes of OPN, Nate Boyce and a phalanx of podcast and media types, Icons is decidedly not a record for schmoozing. On the contrary, it's a stark and beautiful document of the lonely city.