Drummer and electronic musician Joshua Jenquin explores texture and mood in a new project.
The self-titled debut release from Death Overboard, a new project from Madison-based drummer, DJ, and producer Joshua Jenquin, plays like a trip-hop record taking an extra-long, deep breath. The project's name suggests something ostentatious and brash, and Jenquin worked with a loose concept of writing music for "some nerd superhero movie," yet what more often emerges from these seven tracks, released in January, is melancholy, a bit of empathetic lift, and a patient exploration of sonic textures.
The frizzy synth chords of opener "Balucan Meat" gradually dissipate into gentle reverb, over a beat that mixes live drumming and sampling techniques. Jenquin, whose projects have included DJ Anonymous and the band ZeroBeat, played all of Death Overboard's drum parts on an electronic drumkit, then used the MIDI data to map different percussion samples over his playing. This approach can be a bit tedious, he admits, but it offers both the natural swing of a drummer and the sonic versatility of software-driven drum programming. Jenquin gives us blown-out kicks and digitally frayed snares to pair with the slinking bass line of "Jelly Roll," and a polished, almost post-rock-worthy array of rumbling toms to contrast with the warpy piano sounds of "Caught With Steel Guts."
It's a bit easier to envision the superhero connection on "Geroni Moses" and "Phil's Ant Trophy." These are the two most overtly hip-hop-influenced tracks, both constructed around bright synth stabs and gritty, breakbeat-inspired drums. Still, Jenquin wrote all these tracks without much regard for whether they'd fit neatly into a DJ set or any given stylistic category. "Geroni Moses" and "Phil's Ant Trophy" are both mischievous fun, but still fit into a broader scheme of reflection and mood.
"I think contemplation and resolution were dominant throughout, but I spend a lot of time in that head space," Jenquin says of the emotions that informed the record. "Happy loss comes to mind, like when you have to walk away from something but are satisfied because the core goal of the situation was accomplished."
The other consistent thread at work here is that all the tracks are built in a relatively stark way—drums, synths arranged in a couple of chordal and melodic parts, taut bass figures. The generous amounts of reverb and delay are used thoughtfully, giving the instruments a bit of extra space and separation. By extension, it gives the listener plenty of room to contemplate and soak up the album's subtle emotional shadings on repeat plays.
Jenquin currently has no plans for a live version of Death Overboard, though he says he's open to the idea if he finds the right players. He's currently working on writing the project's next batch of songs.