Arguably the track that brings Mehr’s On into clearest focus is the penultimate one, “Monks On The Beach,” less for the irreverence of its title than for the conceptual MO evidenced by its construction—specifically the idea of pairing Gregorian Chant with animated, field-recorded conversations in a single piece. In contrast to its predecessor, In, the first part of Mehr’s In-On-Off triptych, On doesn’t present two long-form compositions but instead eight experimental constructions of more modest length (Off, featuring a single, forty-nine-minute epic, is scheduled for early 2013 release). As he did on In (and on his debut album Lava), Mehr again uses synths, processed guitars, distortion pedals, and computer to generate the latest chapter’s dramatic set-pieces.
The approach is hardly unique to “Monks On The Beach,” however. The opening salvo “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” adopts much the same approach in juxtaposing grime-laden convulsions and orchestral string samples, as does the subsequent “Flaming Youth” when it offsets belches of static noise with crackle-drenched loops of string-laced lounge music. Harpsichord tinkles and other smothered musical elements wash ashore during the piece’s seven minute running time, before “Barcelona Waltz” lumbers into being with its own noise-encrusted agenda.
Some moments of remarkable beauty occur, most memorably during the orchestrally rich settings “Only For A While” and “Tunnels,” while the cut-up collage-styled character of the recording is most blatantly displayed during the brief rhythmic stutters of “Olympia.” It’s telling that a major reason why “Only For A While” is so effective is that it largely hews to a single style throughout; “Tunnels,” on the other hand, makes a strong impression in the way it loops piano and harp fragments into a lulling dreamscape (in its first half). Having eight separate pieces at his disposal affords Mehr the latitude to easily and abruptly shift gears in both style and mood, and consequently the samples-heavy On covers a wide range of experimental ground in its heady forty-five minutes. It’ll be interesting to hear how Off picks up where On leaves off.