Marcus Mehr‘s Off is the concluding element in an ambitious trilogy. In and On, reviewed here in 2012, are vastly different in style, but set the stage for a grand finale. Now that all three pieces have been released, listeners can see how and where they relate to each other. In is comprised of two pieces, each dominated by repetitive string-based tape loops; the classical reverie is shattered by abrasion at the end of the first. On is a series of tracks that begins with abrasion and ends with a minor piano phrase. This phrase finds its echo in the “chorus” of Off, a single 42-minute track that unfolds in movements and gathers strength as it proceeds.
Off is never silent, although in its ivory moments it seeks a momentary placidity. The vast drones that surround the piece whip like winds, attempting to dislodge any idea of constancy. And yet, as the pure notes battle the massicated, unbowed purity wins. This battle has been unfolding over the course of all three albums, but only on Off is a soft resolution achieved. The taming of dark tones implies that the artist – and by extension, the listener – has come full circle, only to find that the center has moved. Starting again from In, one can no longer hear it in the same way. In was complete, and then it wasn’t, and now its reduced arc operates as an extended prelude.
Perhaps the best facet of Off is the way the ground – represented by the distorted waves of sound – keeps shifting. While In played with repetition and On with variety, Off splits the difference. The mid-piece entrance of a choir solidifies the deal. When order and chaos battle, religion is usually in the middle somewhere. The slow samples add a sense of comfort, even in the midst of some broken sounds (dropped instruments, keys?) and what seems like backward masking in the 23rd minute. If associations are made with the 23rd Psalm, they are likely unintentional; however, the decision to make the piece exactly 42 minutes long is likely purposeful. Those familiar with The Pixies likely know the refrain, “If the Devil is six and God is seven …” Six times seven, or 42, implies war.
Mehr is best in his darkest moments, and this clash between light and darkness is his best work to date. When the apocalyptic horses pass (28:05), the listener knows that the end is near. But if the world doesn’t end, this composer will have plenty of time to begin anew. (Richard Allen)