People change. Artists change. They put away their old instruments in favor of new tools. They tire of the sounds they once made and move forward, sometimes changing direction radically. This can spell death for bands that rely on hype to maintain an audience. Confused by any deviation from a formula, the media outlets that helped build a band’s empire can destroy it with a few keystrokes. But avant-garde artists with long careers don’t have (or don’t care about) this issue. In fact, the changes in the repertoire of a true creator can be all the more vast, even over short time scales, sometimes project to project. But it’s still rare that a musician turns 180 degrees on a dime. Kevin Drumm used to make some of the most suffocatingly dense and tympanum-piercing noise in the canon. Shut In may be the calmest, simplest recording of the year so far.
It’s perhaps important to note that Shut In and, say, Sheer Hellish Miasma (perhaps the most illustrative title in music history) serve radically different purposes for the listener. Although one might, in the relentless blast of the latter, find a “happy place” wherein to hide, a safe room, the album will only assist you in finding calm negatively, in the “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” sense. Shut In, however, not only assists the listener in a quest for quietude, but also commands it. If you are not searching for soothing waves of extended release tones or an aid to bring you into a meditative trance, you will cease listening to this work. It doesn’t feature the complexity of form and constancy of novelty that music for other states offer.
What it offers is a lack of interruption, a total absence of violence. A jarring sound never passes through the speaker. Each new note peacefully receives its place from the one preceding it, simultaneously readying space for the note that follows, ensuring that no silence ever appears. Both sides of this release, were they tied together end to end, could form an endless loop of tape that would only skip briefly at the beginning and end of a side. Indeed, perhaps the most challenging aspect of Shut In is its consistency; it never falters in reproducing the same.
Although many academics might sneer at the premise of utilitarian aesthetics, Shut In is useful. It’s not groundbreaking or exciting or even very interesting. It’s pure, and its purity is valuable in soothing the savage beasts — of anxiety, of anger, of fear, of discord. It doesn’t feature a shred of sonic evidence that Drumm created it, but it obviously emerged from his skillful, veteran hands. Whether it represents a final turn away from the untethered chaos of his earlier work is anyone’s guess, but even if it doesn’t fall into place in the tradition of his work, it will prove its value for the temporary needs of a listener in a state of turmoil. In doing so, it may achieve a kind of clarity of purpose that few other works do, even if that purpose strictly confines it.