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Jason Lescalleet - Songs About Nothing

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Artist: Jason Lescalleet

Album: Songs About Nothing

Label: Erstwhile

Review date: Aug. 15, 2012

Songs About Nothing guards its secrets tenaciously. It leads with a joke; the cover is a blank sendup of Big Black’s Songs about Fucking, whose track titles are repeatedly mirrored and mocked on Trophy Tape, the first disc of this double album. But the music doesn’t seem especially comedic, nor does it address Big Black’s swansong in any way. Even where there’s a lean thread of commonality — it’s true that both records fuck with you — they do it in different ways. Steve Albini did his best to offend and shock with blunt language and trebly guitars, while Lescalleet’s manipulations of perception confuse and overwhelm. Even when he’s at his most extreme and simple, blasting high frequencies or reveling in slowed-down sound, there’s something hidden about the music. But at the same time that he’s messing with your perceptions, he plays at being transparent; the first sound you hear on Road Test, the single-track second CD, is someone announcing that they’re rolling tape. Tape is Lescalleet’s medium. He mostly plays tape, and when he uses another instrument (a computer, a sampling keyboard), he uses it for storage and playback so that it is essentially a lesser tape deck.

Why lesser? Because one of Lescalleet’s strengths is the way he uses tape’s distortive qualities to transform sounds into something greater than themselves. His solo music is the opposite of his collaborations with Graham Lambkin, which revel in mundanity. The way he places sounds invests them with power. Whether he’s deploying field recordings of a bazaar or a helicopter buzzing overhead, the muffled flumpf of a tape being precipitously stopped or the stumble of a pitched-down fragment of Kraftwerk, he invests the gesture with an unshakable sense of its own rightness. Stretched in time or with frequencies tweaked, his sounds are as imposing as those big heads on Easter Island, and they’re similarly mute.

Taken literally, the title is a red herring. After all, Lescalleet doesn’t write songs, and the ones he uses, he disassembles or disembowels. They are mere material to appropriated and arranged. And is this record really about anything? Neither disc’s progression suggests any narrative, but they sure don’t play out arbitrarily, either.

Lescalleet deploys his elements as masterfully as the first musique concrete composers. Songs About Nothing may not say what its about, but it really is something.

By Bill Meyer

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