“Escapements”: Night Flight shines a light on the Brooklyn-based synth-pop duo Beacon, on tour this month

By on February 6, 2016

You might expect that if Night Flight wanted to share with you something about a synth-pop duo that we might be referring to Soft Cell, Eurythmics or another 80s-era act, but we wanted to divert your attention away from our past, and back to the present, at least for a few precious moments, to tell you about the Brooklyn-based electronic duo Beacon, composed of Jacob Gossett and Thomas Mullarney III.

Beacon are currently on tour — they’ll be making a triumphant return to the Bowery Ballroom on February 11th — to support their second full-length album, Escapements, which came out just this past Friday, February 5th, on Ghostly International (tour dates below).

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We’re also taking this opportunity to share with you their new video for the album’s leadoff track, “IM U,” which was directed by Charles Bergquist.

The video — where we see a mysterious cloaked woman shadowing a man dragging another, who is presumably dead, across the rough sand — was shot on location in the Mojave desert near Amboy Crater and Lava Field, an extinct volcanic formation that is 6000 years old and 246 feet high.

Amboy Crater is a visually stunning formation of ash and cinders, visible for miles across the empty vastness, the kind of place where your thirsty eyes drink in all it can see, and here the Mojave provides the perfect setting for the track that Stereogum thought sounded “subtly cinematic.”  It’s a stark place of forlorn beauty, which might also be another good way to describe Escapements.

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There’s a lot of open space in Beacon’s placid, percolating R&B-drenched ethereal downtempo electro-pop too, at times mysteriously and simultaneously foreboding and sexy, propelled forward with keyboard-driven synth beats and Mullarney’s diaphanous, surreal vocals, settling down inside the tracks like a light desert mist of rain and drawing your attention back to a singular warm human voice — sometimes multiple voices in unison — brightening what seems like visible darkness.

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Lyrically, the album’s eleven tracks illuminate that same desert-like open space that sometimes we find in our lives, showing us the difficulties inherent in all of our relationships where communications, and values, break down and decay.

Mullarney told VICE the new album was also about the “broader themes of codependency”:

“I hope this record proves our restlessness and shows that we really aren’t content to have only one approach to creating music,” says Mullarney. “Every part of our process is linked to discovery.”

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Jacob Gossett (left), and Thomas Mullarney III (right), photo: Chad Kamenshine

We learned via Ghostly Int’l’s album notes that the album’s title Escapements refers to the time-keeping regulator inside mechanical clocks, a metaphoric reference to the fact that over time the escapement — designed like a ticking heart to transfer energy at a constant, consistent pace — eventually gets out of sync.

Mullarney: “I was attracted to this concept because of the entropy it implies. Friction and changes in amplitude over time mean[s] every escapement, no matter how well crafted, will lose its accuracy and effectively slow down time via its own decay.”

The title track itself exists because Gossett ran an arpeggiator through an old Kawai K1M sound module and they both liked the way it sounded, typical of the kind of experimentation and discovery that moved this Brooklyn duo to create new sounds for their new album, sounds they weren’t likely weren’t expecting to find at the start of an embryonic home-studio journey which took them approximately nine months to complete.

The production throughout is, not surprisingly, taut, and scalpel-precise.

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Here’s more from Ghostly Int’l’s album notes:

“After the initial demos were written, Escapements was refined and recorded over the course of nine months at Beacon’s Brooklyn home studio and Gary’s Electric, where it was mixed by Al Carlson. Tycho drummer Rory O’Connor was brought in to perform, unleashing new energy onto the Beacon sound and helping expand it to unheard places.

Gossett and Mullarney originally met at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, where they were studying painting and sculpture, respectively, before their interest in making music brought them together nearly five years ago to make music, releasing their first pair of recordings in April 2011 as free downloads on their Bandcamp page.

Later that year they made their official debut with a four-track EP, No Body, released through the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ghostly International’s Moodgadget sub-label, which is also based in Beacon’s hometown of Brooklyn.

The duo then spent much of 2012 touring the U.S., opening for Gold Panda, Tycho, and Oneohtrix Point Never, who we recently referenced in this post about Brooklyn-based Ben Zimmerman’s recordings on an archaic Tandy computer from the 80s. They’ve been across the country five times on tour thus far.

Also in late 2012, Beacon self-released their own 7-track limited-edition Winter Tour EP, which was then followed by Ghostly International release of a five-track For Now EP, and their label then followed that up Beacon’s first full-length album, The Ways We Separate, in April 2013.

Beacon perform live at Bowery Ballroom on May 27, 2015

Photo: Will Calcutt

“L1″ -- a track which is featured on the new album — was originally released in December 2014, with Mullarney recently telling Interview magazine,

“‘L1′ was made in direct response to a full year of touring ‘L1′…We wanted to release some of the frantic energy that we fed off of while performing live. Escapements picks up on many of those musical themes while demonstrating a more patient approach to songwriting.”

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The cover art for Escapements — by artist Caleb Charland — is a photograph exposed for eight hours, showing a torchiere lamp in a farmer’s field in Van Buren, Maine, its light bulb powered by the potatos buried there, the sky above streaked by stars arcing across the blue night sky.

“The arc of the star trails show the rotation of the earth,” Gossett points out in the press notes. “I can’t imagine a better representation of time, process, and discovery. It’s how we wanted Escapements to sound.”

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Photo: Chad Kamenshine

Escapements is out now on Ghostly International.

Written, Recorded and Produced by Beacon
Live Drums on “IM U,” “Escapements,” and “You’re Wondering” by Rory O’Connor
Mixed by Al Calson at Gary’s Electric Studio
Mastered by Joe LaPorta at Sterling Sound

Tour Dates

February 4 Chicago, IL Schuba’s Tavern
February 5 Detroit, MI Majestic Cafe
February 6 Toronto, ON The Drake Hotel
February 10 Boston, MA Great Scott
February 11 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom
February 12 Philadelphia, PA Boot & Saddle
February 13 Washington, DC Song Bird
February 16 Atlanta, GA Aisle 5
February 17 New Orleans, LA Hi-Ho
February 18 Houston, TX Rudyard’s
February 19 Austin, TX The Parish
February 20 Tlaltizapán, MX Bahidora
February 22 El Paso, TX The Lowbrow Palace
February 23 Phoenix, AZ Valley Bar
February 24 San Diego, CA Soda Bar
February 25 Los Angeles, CA Club Bahia
February 26 San Francisco, CA Noise Pop – Bottom of the Hill
February 27 Portland, OR Mississippi Studios
February 28 Seattle, WA Nectar Lounge
March 1 Boise, ID Treefort
March 2 Salt Lake City, UT Kilby Court
March 3 Denver, CO Lost Lake
March 4 Wichita, KS Barleycorn

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.