Steven Hess and Christopher McFall - The Inescapable Fox
This collaboration between Steven Hess (a percussionist and sound artist from Chicago) and Christopher McFall (a composer from Kansas City who crafts his pieces largely from field recordings, saxophone, piano, and phonograph noise all captured on chemically decayed tape) is a truly phenomenal record. Released last year on the always excellent (but sadly under-appeciated) Under the Spire imprint, these two side-long pieces, divided into five total movements, represent perhaps the finest of McFall's many collaborations to date. The result is a wonderfully textural exploration of light and dark sonic palettes. The natural reverb, decay, and static wash of hyrdolytically treated analog tape lends a haunting, compelling quality to the pieces, as metallic creaks, murmuring brass, ghostly vocal tones, and water-logged piano ebb and flow throughout the crumbling soundscapes. Using decayed tape is not a new trend. William Bazinski's "The Disintegration Loops" is perhaps the most famous contemporary example, but artists like The Caretaker and Oneohtrix Point Never are known for the technique as well. McFall's approach, which decays tape in a very specific manner, is novel nonetheless. His sounds are studies in deeply submerged minimalism and truly reward a patient ear. Hess's percussive elements add a whole new level of dynamism to the proceedings. Together, the pair have crafted a series of elusive, enigmatic soundscapes. Just when a piece threatens to become too academic, or too bogged down, some new element is introduced to pull listeners back in - a brush of piano keys, perhaps, or a voice keening in the sonic mist. Among all the tape hiss, crumbling mechanical thrum, and sinister static tangle, there are moments of true beauty and sadness. "The Inescapable Fox," which draws its title from the myth of Lealaps, is sublimely haunting, a melancholy, surreal, and captivating piece of music, and one of the unsung great albums of last year.