A question one might ask about Jason Lescalleet’s Songs about Nothing: what exactly is this nothing that he’s speaking of? In fact, from its referential cover and song titles down through the countless samples (some recognizable, some not) spread across its mammoth two discs, SAN suggests a whole heap of something. Every bit — from the vignette-length tracks on the first side to the sprawling one-track second — is dense, dynamic, and meticulously crafted. Simply put, SAN is Lescalleet’s most incisive solo achievement (which says quite a bit) and rivals his collaborative works such as The Breadwinner with Graham Lambkin and Love Me Two Times with nmperign (which says even more).
Just as with Lescalleet’s work with Graham Lambkin (which also includes Air Supply), there’s a distinct cohesion to each disc. “Trophy Tape,” the first disc, percolates with a glib vigor, interspersing humor with chilling electronics and careening between the electronic shards and crushing beats of “The Beauty of Independent Music” to the ‘mother fucking’ claustrophobic breathing of “The Loop.” In this sense, it’s possible that SAN’s “nothing” is merely a joke, perhaps a way of emptying the sarcasm from the original for another. But settling for this conclusion misses the forest for the trees. Yes, SAN is humorous in the way that, say, Taku Unami and Takahiro Kawaguchi’s Teatro Assente is, but there seems to be a more profound nothing at work on SAN.
When transitioning into the second disc, “Road Test,” it becomes clear that Lescalleet has recorded more than just a tongue-deeply-in-cheek homage. In contrast to “Trophy Tape,” the second-disc-long “The Future Belongs to No One” finds Lescalleet as a concrète auteur. Stretching across 43-odd minutes, “The Future Belongs to No One” is an attempt by Lescalleet to recreate his live sound, deftly mixing samples of muscle cars, protest chants, and purple drankin’ appropriation with looming electronics. This disc goes far beyond the icy sarcasm of “Trophy Tape,” suggesting an immense emptiness, possibly the titular “nothing.” But there isn’t just a mere sense of bleakness; Lescalleet manages to dislocate each sample’s origin and construct a wholly new environment. The throbbing pulse before the screwed DM, the faint beeps of a truck in reverse, the passing helicopters — they all congeal into “Road Test’s” world of despair, with few, if any, traces of their original signifying qualities.
This approach to samples and field recordings has become a hallmark of both the Erstwhile label as of late and post-eai in general. With last year’s aforementioned Teatro Assente and this year’s Crosshatches (by Michael Pisaro and Toshiya Tsunoda), there’s a consistent application of found sound as not records of a time and place, but literally as sound, arranged within a new spatiotemporal context. They, like Lescalleet, treat their samples as sound objects, as vibrations that refer only to themselves, or at least nothing in particular. In this sense, we can understand SAN’s “nothing” in a dual way: as sentiment (both smarmy and serious) and as sound.
On “I Killed Another Day,” Lescalleet ‘resigns,’ “It takes out the pizzaz, doesn’t it? It just drains you. It burns you out. And so there’s times when… it’s almost like what am I even going through this for? Why am I even doing this?” In what might be the most literal sample on SAN, the listener is forced to answer these questions. My answer? Lescalleet is doing this for the spectacle of Songs About Nothing [In Particular], and it has resulted in one of the strongest releases of the year.