There aren’t many ways to surprise an audience anymore. Sometimes bands will cross over into entirely new sonic territory or pair up with an unexpected collaborator, but this has happened so many times, it’s no less shocking than the next release in a discography. Lee Bannon is the kind of artist whose previous associations make his new record a legitimate and pleasant surprise. You wouldn’t necessarily think a DJ known for his work with Joey Bada$$ would come out with a record more Brian Eno than Big Sean. But, Bannon, known best for his work in hip hop, wrote one of the most interesting ambient, electronic records of the year, and his creativity is pretty exhilarating even if the music is meant for chilling.
Bannon’s Pattern of Excel wouldn’t even call up hip hop as a marginal reference point if it existed in a vacuum. He started heading in this purely electronic direction with his last release, Cope, but here, the transformation is complete. There are nuances here and there which make his previous work in that genre a little less of a surprise, but even these are more on the trip-hop side of the spectrum than anything else.
But Pattern of Excel is not all close-your-eyes-and-think music. The one exception is the drumbeat freak-out “inflatable” but, ironically enough, it’s one of the least engaging songs on the record. Its dynamics are more obvious, but Bannon spends the rest of the album proving he doesn’t exactly need to be up in your personal space to keep your attention. The muted reverberating guitars and ozone layer synth pads are enough to complete that task.
As for the songs themselves, “Artificial Stasis,” initially released as a single, is only one watery beat repeating itself, surrounded and swathed by synthesizers and eventually accompanied by a conversation and camera shots. “Disneµ Girls” revels in sentimental guitar lines that feel at home here but would be total foreigners anywhere else in Bannon’s recorded output. “Shallowness is the root of all evil” is an original take on the spare, yet echoing aesthetic most popularized by The xx. “Aga” offers sinister synths throughout, as if haunted by the ghosts of Gary Numan and Trent Reznor’s most quietly frightening and restrained tracks.
While all the songs are good, they also sound like the work of someone trying his hand at something new. In no way does Bannon come across a soundscaping rookie, but there are times in which the patchwork approach he takes comes across as a little haphazard. For an album with a swimming pool on its cover, it doesn’t exactly submerge you in its sonic layers. Rather, it’s a wade through the shallow water heading to the deep end of the pool.