Peter Escott – The Long O – CD


Peter Escott, so far: proudly lives in Hobart, Tasmania; has been carefully learning and unlearning the piano since childhood; recorded an unknown number of self-released, increasingly intricate and discordant instrumental piano CD-Rs, before the adult self-consciousness properly kicked in; added a fairly serviceable singing voice to his playing on his let’s-try-something-that-might-make-sense-to-people debut Slowcoach (independently released, 2008); then, to his own astonishment on top of everyone else’s, made a sudden anxiety-defying shift from shy retirer to flamboyant frontman with compact, concise bass-and-machines duo The Native Cats, who have thrilled crowds from Gonerfest in Memphis to the Sydney Opera House and reached new heights of critical acclaim with their third LP, Dallas.

And now, like an introvert finding an empty room at a house party, Escott has returned to keeping his own counsel and suffering his own consequences, with his new solo album for Bedroom Suck Records, The Long O. Featuring no other performers and limited to the only instruments he knows how to play – piano, synth, melodica, and a solitary, awkwardly self-taught guitar chord – The Long O is as haunting as it is direct, with Escott’s voice lending a reserved gravity to the often soaring arrangements.

The minimal instrumentation allows Escott’s long-confirmed songwriting strengths to come to the fore. He avoids arpeggiating and endless layering in favour of weighty chords and open spaces, whether in the mournful stride of piano-driven lead single “My Heaven, My Rules” or the blissful dream-pop of “Mealymouth”. A thread of rough-hewn experimentation runs through the album too: the off-kilter beats in “Believe in Devil World” are augmented by chopped-up piano samples from a scrapped version of the same song; “Desmond’s Song” gradually reveals a meticulously constructed found sound collage; “The Bell” closes the album with a melodica solo played in front of a washing machine, both heavily distorted to devastating effect.

Escott’s lyrics, already so vital to the singular appeal of the Native Cats, are even more focused and prominent here, as he trades his usual bold declarations and paranoid power games for a far more reflective and revealing lyrical mode. In “A16 (Sure Thing)” he challenges myths about partnership and romantic passion; in “My Arm Is True” he soothes his young children to sleep as he ponders the necessity of corporeal existence; and in “O”, a three-part home recording inspired by the paralysing indecision of trying to complete and arrange the album, he wonders if all art can simply be reduced to “a list of decisions”, explores the notion of artistic immortality via the history of drum sampling, and accepts the impossibility of writing to please anybody but oneself. It’s The Long O in a nutshell: pieces of an ordinary life, and a wandering mind, and a well-honed instinct for deceptively small sounds.

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