Last year, Chicago’s Matthew Dotson released a little cassette called Excavation, which was simultaneously creative, promising, maddening, and memorable. The new Revolution / Circumvention continues in this vein, but the music is no longer maddening; frustration has been replaced by intrigue.
Excavation was frustrating because it didn’t quite hold together. The album was an oft-haphazard tangle of amazing segments separated by sprawling interludes. A mixture of ambient, drone, electronics and feedback, it produced moments of beauty and angst: the chimes and thickness of Side A’s conclusion and the wild tumbling timbres of Side B. These included red zone drums and thrums (3:52), IDM-influenced glitch (11:20), and Old West guitar ambience supported by club bass (15:40).
On Revolution / Circumnavigation, Dotson puts it all together to form something much more cohesive. The tumbling timbres now serve a greater narrative. By integrating his vast array of sound sources, Dotson comes close to a modern electronic symphony. There’s little hesitation this time around, as Dotson jumps right in. “Revolution” launches with three simultaneous sounds: children, a marching band, and a narrator, whose first words are, “The twist.” By the second minute, a beat has already developed, blossoming at 2:17 into something clubworthy and deep. So will we be dancing to this beat for the full 18:26? No, not with Dotson at the helm. By the fourth minute, every other beat has vanished while a series of bells begins to toll. By the fifth, the beat is gone, replaced by vibrations, pulses, and backmasking. Think of it as an experimental version of The Avalanches. In the sixth minute, the track begins to sound like the work of The Caretaker; in the seventh, a lost 80s dance track. But Dotson has learned a few things in the past few months, including the value of repeating themes; a piano motif reappears on the other side of the drums, while the chimes recur a bit later. The repetition helps listeners to view the piece as a single track rather than as a mix. Only in the fourteenth and fifteenth minutes does the piece falter a bit, as dueling tempos vie for supremacy; nothing that can’t be fixed with a smooth iron.
“Circumvention” begins in a much more subdued fashion, sounding for the first three minutes like a smoke-filled hookah lounge. Then the electric guitars and drums arrive; now, everybody’s dancing. After a pause, the tempo increases, the sweat pours, and one may start to ask, “Why doesn’t Dotson make 12″ dance records?” The answer is simple: that would be too average a path. Dotson isn’t interested in the maudlin or the mainstream. Content (for now) to remain on the outskirts, he’s walking a lonelier road, fraught with greater difficulty but greater potential reward.
Revolution / Circumvention presents a blend that few have encountered: electronic, beat-driven soundscape. When the fuzz leaps to the fore at 8:54 of “Circumvention”, one thinks the rarest of thoughts: this is something new. In retrospect, Excavation now seems prescient, the beginning of something magnificent and as yet unnamed. (Richard Allen)