Music, once upon a time, was all about having transcendent experiences and spiritual catharsis while dancing by the glittering glow of a village fire, or under the moonlight. And in this way, what EOTO is doing is nothing new, but actually quite ancient. Much like primitive drum circles, the chiefs of this tribe, Jason Hann and Michael Travis, strive to induce transcendence without prefabricated songs, but rather unrehearsed, improvised music creation, or simply put: jamming. Though the glow of firelight may now come by way of state of the art stage lights, EOTO’s latest album Fire The Lazers!! delivers fits of spontaneous, moon-howling music with a surprising level of precision.
Michael Travis helms much of the impromptu song creation by running keyboards, guitars, and bass through an array of gadgetry, providing a vast range of possible sounds. This proves an essential source of diversity and difference between songs, giving each their distinct character: The icicled tones on the opening notes of “Flying Red” are a world apart from the extraterrestrial static of “Comrade Down” and playful, chiptune-like rambles of “Spare Parts.” However, with a strong emphasis on the darker tonalities of bass, and Hann’s ever quickening rhythm tempos, all these songs, and largely the album, still comfortably fit under the live dubstep/house end of the electronica spectrum. Likewise, as a whole, Fire The Lazers!! delivers a grittier, street educated listening experience, best typified in the urban warfare of “Circuit Bent.”
But ultimately, it’s how the duo approaches the none-too-easy task of generating danceable energy that makes or breaks this album. Without the number of musicians of fellow live electro brethren Lotus and STS9, EOTO must eschew a sheer bigness of sound, for a more subtle strategy. They do so through Travis’ unrelenting, almost antagonistic cycle of introducing and extinguishing themes. Coupled with Hann’s drum-machine like precision, limbs and listeners are effectively goaded to involuntary movement. This blueprint is used throughout the album to trigger the gritty get down, most effectively in “Contact,” “Time Saw,” and particularly “Make My Day!,” whose hypnotic theme, built on an industrial, mechanized cacophony, takes unyielding residence in your frontal brain lobe after being continually resolved and reintroduced. Good melodies, and by extension successful songs, are wholly the result of synergetic jamming between Travis and Hann.
With such a limited margin of error, it’s astonishing just how little there actually is between the fellow String Cheese alums. Their uncanny intuition and almost telekinetic abilities of predicting the direction the other will take is inspiring, and belies the 100% live label. That all proves part of the mystique of Fire The Lazers!!. Though you can’t expect to hear any of these songs at a live show, there’s still a feeling of experiencing something special, akin perhaps to witnessing an exquisite Buddhist sand painting, fated to be swept away upon its completion; its momentary existence underwrites its brilliance. All EOTO songs are one time affairs, and this album represents a mere snapshot of eleven of those singular experiences. Though great listening, Fire The Lazers!! is only a sample of what would take place at a show, and shouldn’t be used as a substitute.