A follow-up of sorts to The Meets’ It Happens Outside, Stage Hands finds Brandon Locher collaborating with Gerald Mattis and friends for a head-nodding rock and electronic experience. Fittingly, this short, fun LP has found a home on My Idea of Fun, who also released his work as The Meets.
The creative nature of Locher’s work is still apparent here, as the album is graced by live instrumentation layered atop diverse electronics. Mattis uses two drum kits, often at the same time: on the title track, an acoustic cymbal with electronic pads. This blurring of lines is a hallmark of Locher’s productions, and draws the listener in, inviting deciphering. The sequencing of the album, with each track bleeding into the other, creates the sheen of a radio show.
“The Populating of Empty Space” is the lead single, based on deep bass and clear percussive rhythms. It’s funky in the manner of classic funk, with a jazzy undertone: vibraphone and wooden blocks. The late breakdown hints at glitch with sampled vox, but never tilts into IDM. This stuttering continues on “Adaptive Lines”, but it’s part of the process, a background formation rather than a foreground studio trick. Instead, the track’s most significant sound is one that sounds like glasses being placed in a sink, first heard at 2:01 but repeated throughout the (instrumental) chorus. This is the strength of Stage Hands: the presentation of old sounds in new places.
Stage Hands’ labelmate The One and Only Matt Miller lends vocals to “#unabomber”, which takes up the majority of Side B. The spirit of collaboration is laudable, and the delivery respectable, but the track reflects a tonal shift that is difficult to incorporate with the short grooves of Side A. The listener is suddenly in a song instead of in a mix. A deeper problem is the use of a now-clichéd lyric: “we don’t need no water …”, followed by the repeated use of the word “antidisestablishmentarianism.” We’re an instrumental-based site, and this track exposes the reason: we’d rather talk about music than lyrics. It’s too easy to injure a song with awkward lyrics, because they exist in the forefront of conversation. But Side A is great, and we’d love to hear an instrumental version of Side B.
Update: Only two days after this review was published, an instrumental version of “#unabomber” was posted to Soundcloud. Swap this track out for the former, and the entire album changes; now it’s the hip mixtape that we longed to hear ever since we heard about a follow-up to It Happens Outside. Freed to concentrate on the music (our bread and butter), we are now able to zone out to the exquisite violin or to zone in to the beautiful beats and bells. It’s our choice, and we’re all the better because of it. With this change, “#unabomber” now becomes the set piece. Kudos to the artist for providing the alternative.