For a long time, music has been about prolificity. Even outside of art, we all know that staying relevant and staying profitable is very simply about staying productive. But when “get shit done” is the mantra of the day, how much do we sacrifice not only in substance but in significance? What meaning and longevity can we expect from the shit that we make?
Eshovo Momoh’s Listening or Of Empathy and Echo feels like it’s very much about both substance and significance. In fact, it’s right there in the title: empathy, or finding meaning through compassion, and echo, or the ripples that become a legacy. The ten tracks are only one component of a larger body of work—they accompany a book by the same name, of which only 30 handmade copies were sold. As I haven’t had the opportunity to experience the book itself, I’ll be honest and say mine feels like a fragmentary understanding of the work, but the music certainly stands up on its own.
The book is described as “a series of disjointed transcripts developed out of 2.5 hours of audio recorded interviews conducted in December 2016 by friends of the artist,” while the audio component is said to be “developed out of memories, conversations and possibly interviews.” Indeed, the album often plays like a dream. Though Eshovo’s work has always had an experimental flair, this feels like a distinct evolution from previous albums like 2013’s In Neutral or 2016’s #000000, though his work on last year’s Night in Reverse EP is very indicative of the lo-fi and minimalist electronic qualities found on Listening. Tracks like “who knows” and “knee jerk” even have a Steve Reich-ian character with beats that sound like tape loops and wordplay that relies heavily on repetition. These techniques help to zero in on specific emotions without needing much context. The contrast between the two songs—“who knows” is sludgy while “knee jerk” is more steely—also serves as a great example of how Eshovo deploys sonic qualities to amplify the tone of the work: the former is listless while the latter is restless.
Many of the tracks play with his vocals coming in and out of focus, or tempo speeding up and slowing back down again. "Disjointed" feels like an apt description, but only to an extent, as a through line becomes more and more discernible. In between tracks we hear what seems to be audio from a child’s birthday party (a baby crying, moms chattering); meanwhile, “not faculty” is anchored by a famous H. Rap Brown speech about the ubiquity of white nationalism. These short glimpses into memories and histories start to feel instructive of the “echoes” that our individual past experiences might generate within ourselves. Then, closing track “x it strata” flips to a forward-facing perspective, as Eshovo raps, “Trying to plant the right seeds…and it might grow, and it might flourish, and it might last.” It leaves a lingering question: how do our actions today create echoes for the future?
I’ve wondered a lot, since my first listen through this album, about the marks that our pasts leave on us versus the marks that we might leave behind. While the time and craftsmanship that went into this work leave no doubt of its substance, that lingering feeling is the rarer thing to find these days: art that leaves its own mark behind.