Jacob Gossett and Thomas Mullarney III first met at New York’s Pratt Institute, studying painting and sculpture respectively – and they’ve carried their artistry into the careful moulding of their last two albums. Ever since 2013’s The Ways We Separate, the Brooklyn-based duo working collectively as Beacon have made a name for themselves creating downtempo, otherworldly electronics.
Beacon are not a band to shy away from exploring, sometimes intimidatingly, complex concepts. Their brilliantly murky 2013 debut analysed the weight of doomed relationships, of space and distance; the way we are all stuck in an infinite loop of growing towards and apart from each other. And if The Ways We Separate was about emotional decay, their newest offering Escapements grapples with equally perplexing issues: the notion of time, ageing, and physical deterioration. For thematic reflections, look no further than the title: escapements are the timekeeping mechanisms in a clock. It says something about the nature of the album, that just like a watch, Escapements is a record that has been intricately assembled, layering cross-rhythm after cross-rhythm to create a truly complex piece of craftsmanship.
the song has peeled into disjointed synth and skittering drumbeats. It’s mesmerising.
Each track is slow-burning: it starts small and gradually builds as new ideas and sounds filter through, reflecting the way in which all things grow and evolve with time. Each song trickles into the next so seamlessly that the album feels like one entity. Time passes quicker than you might expect it to – it’s all very clever, really. Beacon really seem to know what they’re doing, don’t they?
‘IM U’, the album opener, is a prime example: the song begins with menacing, thunderous bass – almost like something you might hear in a thriller film right before someone’s about to get murdered. The haunting yearn of Mullarney’s lyrics waft in, (“…I’m not a servant to my own desire, / I trade in anything you don’t like”); the vocals start to shiver and reverberate, some harmonies pick up and echo over the top, the ambience builds – thirty seconds in, and the song has peeled into disjointed synth and skittering drumbeats. It’s mesmerising.
‘IM U’ flows into ‘Backbone’, a rippling of stuttering synth that blossoms into ‘Running Out’. Remarkably, none of the songs feel like filler tracks; each one is its own being, each as sonically hypnotising as the one before it. The chilled-out, bubbling synth on the album’s title song feels lighter in mood than the stormy ‘IM U’; Beacon are evoking more electro-pop than pure electronic here, but it fits them just as nicely.
Escapements is exactly what you want electronic music to sound like
The lyrics on the next track, ‘Hollow’, suggest a change in mood: “finally I can breathe,” purrs Mullarney’s muffled, distorted vocals. This song is a lot slower and, nestled right in the middle of the album, you wonder if this marks a musical transition; it seems like the second half is going to fade away into something more relaxed. The anticipation only makes next track ‘Preserve’ so much more interesting, because it’s the exact opposite of what ‘Hollow’ tells you to expect; it’s the liveliest song on the record. The synth is undulating, the drumbeats are jittery. It’s the closest Beacon get to house music and is one of the best songs on the album.
The skill of Escapements, then, is Beacon’s ability to capture so many different branches of the electronic genre. The songs on this record are wonderfully put together, flowing incredibly coherently from one to the next while still sounding separate. They have produced eleven tracks that all stand up on their own two feet. The unpredictability of this record is indicative of who Beacon are as artists. Sure, they’re only on album 2, so you’d hope they wouldn’t be too set in their ways, but Beacon is really pushing up against the barriers of their genre, exploring the limits of their sound in every track. The genre risks sounding so manufactured that it nears lifeless, but Escapements is exactly what you want electronic music to sound like: alive and breathing.