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Jason Lescalleet - This is What I Do, Vol. 1

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Artist: Jason Lescalleet

Album: This is What I Do, Vol. 1

Label: Glistening Labs

Review date: Sep. 30, 2011

You’ve seen it time and again: A scene (or label, or maybe just a band) starts out strong, only to get weaker as it courts a wider audience with each new release. It’s not necessarily the songs that get worse, but the production. A strong sound that is out of step with mainstream pop production gets watered down with weaker sounds intended to make the music more “palatable” to people who will probably never here it. I remember one old friend who defended one such effort — I think it was a mid-1990s Chills or Verlaines release — by saying “it’s the songs that matter, not the way they’re recorded, right?”


So what does all of this have to do with Jason Lescalleet? He doesn’t make songs, and it’s a stretch to say that he plays instruments. Both on stage and off, his gear consists of microphones, tape decks, and magnetic tape. His collaborators — nmperign, Joe Colley, Graham Lambkin, Jason Kahn — don’t make up any coherent scene, and the main thing their work has in common is a dogged determination to follow idiosyncratic ideas to extreme ends. But Lescalleet’s work is a monument to the notion that music is sound, and that the right sounds will sing to you as eloquently as any singer. He exploits the quirks of cheap or damaged equipment (speaking of damage, where do you suppose he got the idea for the album’s cover?) via eldritch techniques that can only be acquired by spending many years learning the malleable, impermanent ways of magnetic tape.

According to a lengthy appreciation penned by Howard Stelzer, an early supporter whose Intransitive label originally released two of these recordings, the title This is What I Do was originally slated for Lescalleet’s first solo release. That’s not how it worked out; this record follows the release of his first solo record Mattresslessness (Cut) by nine years. But much of Vol. 1’s material predates what’s on Mattresslessness, and its declarative title still holds true today. In recent years, he’s sourced sounds from a friend’s household and his father’s dying utterances, but he still pares, polishes and warps them until they are somehow more than they were.

The music on This is What I do was mostly released on compilations that came out between 1998 and 2004, and this self-released, professionally reproduced CD-R rescues them from downloaded, not heard file-trader limbo. Despite Lescalleet’s early dalliances with metal (Lescalleet used to sing in a combo called Medicine) and noise, most of This is What I Do is pretty quiet. Sometimes the material’s origins are obvious, such as “Un Peu de Neige Sans Raison’s” church organ samples, and sometimes it is probably irrelevant; the ghostly low tones and flickering high ones on “Untitled” could come from anywhere. But whether he’s looping sound into long, mournful melodies or squashing it into tiny quavers, he consistently invests it with such gravity that it could absorb a black hole. In Jason Lescalleet’s universe, sound matters.

By Bill Meyer

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