BRANDON LOCHER – EP2 (Self-Released, 2020)

The New York-based visual artist, musician and composer’s latest release is an invigorating three-song blast that’s both intensely creative and surprisingly accessible.

Even the quickest glance at Brandon Locher’s CV would make any artist exhausted, jealous, or both. As a visual artist, the Johnstown, PA native’s works include – among other things – the hyper-detailed ongoing project Mazes to the Motherlode, which includes more than 100 pieces created in the past eight years. As a musician and composer, the multi-instrumentalist has worked with a full band format (The Meets, Siamese Dream) as well as part of a duo (Stage Hands, with Gerald Mattis) while also releasing plenty of singles as a solo artist. In 2018, under his own name, Locher released EP1 on Hush Hush Records. The three-track album had Locher writing and performing everything himself, with striking results. Sure, technology has a wonderful way of allowing a single artist to sound like an orchestra, but Locher’s compositional and performance smarts go a long way, and in lesser hands, this kind of project might come off as either overly ambitious or half-baked.

Locher’s follow-up, the helpfully titled EP2, was released on December 9 and serves as something of a continuation of that first EP. Locher is once again playing everything himself, using a Nord Piano 3 and VST software and constructing the whole thing in the Ableton digital audio workstation (using the Melodyne program for fine-tuning). Surprisingly, there are very few samples on the EP – a lot of what’s sampled is two-to-three second snippets of Locher’s own live performances, looped or transposed.

Despite all the technical terminology and software name-dropping required to describe the execution of EP2, the music is surprisingly warm and often gorgeous. All of the compositions begin with a single loop with the parts and sections built around it. The modernist/baroque combination that kicks off “Looped Visions” sounds like a 21st century update of Switched-on Bach, but the track soon moves on to a more contemporary soundscape, with gentle beats chugging along to create some sort of galactic club vibe. All the while, Locher inserts plenty of warm hooks with refreshing variety.

“Horizontal Processions” is a bit more subdued, with sustained chords creating something of an ambient feel (that is, until gentle arpeggiated notes and skittish percussion weave in and out). One of the album’s few external samples appears on this track – a clarinet note Locher nabbed from a Messiaen recording and manipulated through Melodyne.

With the closing track, “Knocking on the Ground,” syncopated percussion is more front-and-center as synths bleat insistently – but never overpoweringly. Sitar-like sounds and saxophone add an exotic flavor and give the track an almost jazz-fusion ambience. Locher has, in his own inimitable way, taken the listener on an electronic trip that is both adventurous and globe-hopping yet still seems warm and comforting. Like his own meticulous illustrations, Locher’s music contains immense detail that begs to be revisited and reexamined over and over.

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