Julian Sartorius, "Locked Grooves"
When I first found out about this album, I was not quite sure how to feel about its ambitious structural premise, as the idea of a vinyl record with 112 locked grooves felt suspiciously like a willfully annoying conceptual art statement. That said, I am unable to ever resist the allure of a killer drummer in an indulgent mood, so I was still quite eager to hear what Sartorius had planned for his unique format. My first impression was a favorable one, as I have been on a bit of a Niagara bender and the shifting beat patterns here called to mind a slowed and deconstructed kindred spirit to the tour de force of "Sangandongo." My next impression was mild exasperation, as I was not thrilled that every amazing beat lasted a mere minute before giving way to something new. That revealed the appeal of the physical release though, as this album is packed full of hypnotic rhythms that would make absolutely trance-inducing infinite loops. Naturally, that opens up a host of compelling interactive ways to experience the album, as it is a Pandora's box of multifarious percussive delights. To some degree, I expected something in that vein (as far as gimmicks go, this is a very cool and well thought-out one), but I was still blindsided by both the sheer imagination of Sartorius's rhythms and the way the album as a whole feels like a transcendent psychedelic epic by the end. As La Monte Young and others have decisively proven, sustained immersion in a very insistent and focused vision can feel like a remarkably profound and mind-rewiring experience.
I listened to this album in its digital form, which doubtlessly provided a radically different experience than the vinyl. Nevertheless, the building blocks are identical, as each numbered piece is essentially a 1.8 second loop allowed to play out for exactly one minute and one second. Each piece segues seamlessly into the next with no space in between and all feel like they are roughly the same tempo, so the whole album has a hypnotically consistent flow. At first, the beats seem cool but fairly straightforward, but indications that Sartorius has something more ambitious in mind begin to appear quickly, as he starts sneaking increasingly adventurous sounds, patterns, and flourishes into the insistent pulse. I believe I was first hooked by skittering, off-kilter rhythm of the fourth piece, but that loop was soon eclipsed by even more killer beats, which themselves became eclipsed by still others as the album unfolded. It is hard to nail down an overarching pattern to the sequencing, but there are occasional runs where Sartorius unleashes a flurry of dazzling loops in rapid succession and it all seems to cumulatively build into something wonderful.
Part of the album's brilliance is that those clusters tend to all be compelling for different reasons, as sometimes Sartorius works in a virtuosic fill, while other times he locks into an especially lurching, tumbling, or downright weird time signature without the slightest dip in the album's propulsive forward motion. Sometimes it feels like I am being swept along by a tide, while other times it feels I am descending like an almost ritualistic rhythmic trance, which is an impressive feat for an album this ostensibly one-dimensional and purposely fragmented. Notably, Sartorius used a "prepared" drum kit, which enables a surprisingly varied range of sounds and levels of textural complexity. For example, "Locked Groove 084" feels like a killer hip-hop beat tape, while "Locked Groove 051" feels like it could be plucked from a Sublime Frequencies album and "Locked Groove 047" sounds like a futuristic industrial banger. Other times, Sartorius locks into something that feels like Indian techno, a free jazz drummer going wild in a junkyard, or something absolutely alien-sounding, like the gurgling and clanging "Locked Groove 011." Anyone looking for a great drummer showcasing a wildly imaginative array of beats will not be disappointed here, yet I was most surprised by how masterfully Sartorius overshot that mark to craft something considerably larger than the sum of its parts. Sartorius's stated goal was that "listeners will experience these compositions like they would explore a painting," and he succeeded far beyond my expectations in that regard. Locked Grooves is a deliciously rich vein that succeeds both as a whole and as a collection of compelling fragments that can be isolated and recontextualized into something equally fascinating. As far as solo drummer albums go, Locked Grooves is high art that masterfully raises the bar for what is possible.
Samples can be found here.