Album Review: The Meets – It Happens Outside

[My Idea Of Fun; 2013]

There are always certain self-imposed limitations when an artist jumps genres and starts to blend these often disparate sounds into something resembling a cohesive piece of music. We’re always told, “Don’t mesh this type of music with that type — don’t ever have this group of aesthetics set against something that could overwhelm the musical details.” But for those musicians who can successfully fold multiple genres into one another with a minimum of difficulty, there are endless tonal landscapes to explore and combinations of rhythms to develop. Brandon Locher — the architect and curator of musical collective The Meets — knows this all too well. Drawing together a host of 20 musicians, he has constructed It Happens Outside, an album that’s equal parts beat tape, drum circle, and orchestral improvisation. Mastered by Nick Zammuto (The Books) and produced by Locher, the album hums with the vibrancy of everyday life. And as these kind of collections live and die on the strength of their musical footnotes, it makes sense that It Happens Outside never short sells this aspect.

Rather than feeling segmented or arbitrarily tracked, it’s best to experience the album as one continuous loop, with each track neatly bleeding into the next — which for the most part, Locher and Co have been gracious enough to do (save for the time it takes to flip the LP). There is a sense of surprise and unexpected composition as you dive further into It Happens Outside. Pulling back layers of aesthetics to reveal their base foundations, Locher proceeds to build his soundscapes from bits and pieces of these genres and keeps them striding so closely together that the borders between each sample and fractured melody sound nonexistent. “Shruti’s Song” opens the record with the sound of what appears to be an orchestra tuning up for a performance, a description which isn’t actually too far off the mark. We hear slight electronic flourishes, percussion that circles back and forth without any real advancement, and some heavily warped brass sounds — though the track does seem leagues removed from being a simple throwaway interstitial.

“Stoned Eyes” follows up with a pseudo-martial beat and some vinyl scratches before switching gears and moving over into some respectable indie pop/rock territory. But given its almost overt improvisational aspects, the record never stays in one place for very long and continually changes gears to keep you off balance. But this sense of purposeful evasion only adds to the mystery surrounding these recordings. “Nobody, Not Even The Rain” brings the blooping electronics and heavily submerged piano and never seems to raise its voice above a hesitant welcome, while the “The Fish’s Eyes” blends distorted vocals and some clicking percussion to create an uneasy sense of motion. But it’s less the experience of hearing these sounds played out together (though that does produce occasionally miraculous results) and more an understanding of how Locher was able to creatively and tonally blend these different sounds together that causes It Happens Outside to stay with you long after the last notes have faded from your speakers.

And while the album doesn’t hit every note perfectly – the extended cauldron of sounds on “As A Period In Which Nothing Happens” sounds a bit too close to describing itself, and a few of the shorter tacks (both “Broadcast Fireworks Display” tracks for instance) feel a bit on the underdone side. However, other tracks, such as “Even When The Time Comes,” with its DJ Shadow turntablist tendencies, and the atonal percussive rhythms on “Today Grew Dark” display Locher’s deft hand at this type of “kitchen sink” approach to studio production, and the songs effortlessly side step any contrivances or forced associations that could have easily relegated this release to being just another odd musical conflagration. But Locher and his cadre of musicians never allow the weight of what they’re trying to accomplish overshadow the music itself. And as superficially atonal as some of these influences can seem, there is a expert hand working the strings, pulling everything together in an odd assortment of improvised orchestral flourishes, tribal beats, and complex melodies. It Happens Outside may be the work of a number of different musicians, but its voice is so singular and expressive and engaging that the record never seems disjointed — it’s the work of friends making friends, all the while developing the communal bond between the music and its audience.