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The Austerity Program – Beyond Calculation

It took four years for the Austerity Program to make Beyond Calculation. Eight tracks and 38 minutes took four years. “Oh man, and does it ever show!” would be too easy—don’t get me wrong, though, it does show. Beyond Calculation is the most well-rendered album of the Austerity Program’s career, one that should finally launch the duo past 17 years of backhanded “they sound like Big Black” appraisals. But, instead of pep rally pull quotes, let’s give this some meta context: In an era when we expect premieres and debuts daily, two people spent four years of their lives to make 38 minutes of yours resonant with a little more energy. That’s a pretty human endeavor, and Beyond Calculation may be one of the most human albums to feature a drum machine, complex polyrhythms, and a detailed sound design.

Beyond Calculation doesn’t start that way, though. “Song 31″ opens by bashing a groove to death for two minutes. It’s an ode to making loud noises in the company of friends if there ever was one. It also trains your ears for what’s ahead. Justin Foley’s guitar sounds like someone sharpening a blade in your ear, Thad Calabrose’s bass snarls. You acclimate to these timbres because “Song 31″ is so digestible. When “Song 30″ rolls around with its lurch, heady cross-rhythms, and multidimensional production, you’re already calibrated and ready to go. This is no happy accident. Beyond Calculation has been painstakingly plotted, using foreshadowing, push-pull, and tension and release techniques to unfurl over its running time like a labored-over novel or movie.

The latter may be the more appropriate analogy given how Justin Foley has grown as a singer. He almost acts these songs, giving the characters/narrators of his well-penned lyrics a true voice. Foley has always been charismatic, sharing a delivery with Steve Albini and Black Helicopter’s Tim Shea, but he takes it to another level here. “Beyond all calculation, the flood is waiting,” he eeks world-wearily on “Song 33.” You buy it. Down in your gut, you feel that inevitability.

Foley’s commitment to character extends to the playing and the recording. These sounds take on a lot of different shapes in service of the storylines. “Song 32″ employs a rumble that would make even Matt Pike look around like a dog sensing an earthquake. It also ends with round, Tangerine Dream/John Carpenter pulsing synths. Elsewhere, cymbal splashes strobe like flashbulbs, panning from speaker to speaker and disorienting the listener. And “Song 35″ opens with a fragile arpeggio made all the more affecting by the maelstrom that follows it. When “Song 37″ finally uncoils, releasing with false stops and stretches of silence, the impact is bracing because of the proceeding seven songs. It may have taken the Austerity Program four years to make 38 minutes, but, in that moment, not a second is wasted.

— Ian Chainey

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