[COMPUTER LOVE] When I arrive at the home of one of the Portland electronic music scene's most important figures of the past decade, Eric Mast—better known by his pseudonym, E*Rock—he's deep into rehearsals for the release show for his latest electronic epic, The Clock & the Mountain. So deep, in fact, that he doesn't hear me when I knock on the door.
Finally, his housemate lets me in. "I was zoning out, messing around with some beats," the lanky Mast says, sporting a dazed expression from behind his long, curly black hair. "I haven't played live in a while, so I'm trying to figure out how to play my new stuff."
Mast hasn't had a new album to support since his 2003 full-length, Conscious. Not that he has been slacking. Over the past eight years, he has released a handful of limited-edition CD-Rs and DVD-Rs and flexed his muscles as a remixer for the likes of Ratatat (the New York City band that features Mast's younger brother, Evan), Joey Casio and Dragging an Ox Through Water.
But mostly, Mast has been focused on his visual art. He's an accomplished artist who specializes in semi-abstract, almost cartoonlike paintings and drawings à la Jean-Michel Basquiat. Mast is also renowned for his animation and video pieces (he recently spent a week in New York providing live video accompaniment for a performance featuring Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and former Black Dice member Hisham Bharoocha).
Add his frequent DJ gigs and it's little wonder Mast hasn't had much time to make another grand sonic statement. But to hear him say it, there was a bit of self-doubt in the mix as well.
"When my brother and I first started getting into composing using computers," he says between bites of an apple in his bedroom/studio, "we got so excited at the possibilities that we just made stuff. Now, I wasn't sure what I wanted to make. And I didn't know who I was making it for. It's not dance music. It's not headphone music. Would my friends even listen to this?"
That's where Mast is wrong. The songs on The Clock sounds like they would work as well in a club as they do in a pair of headphones. It's a spongy record that bounces with tropical bass and electro beats; long, groaning melodies inspired by '70s German synth pioneers, and a touch of hip-hop swagger. And as light as the new record gets on songs like the squeaky, theremin-heavy "Higher Hats" and the appropriately titled "LazerQuest," with its blasts of video-gamelike sound effects, the record has an astringent aftertaste of darkness, something Mast cops to immediately.
"It was recorded in the winter, when I was holed up reading Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, so there's a real dark sci-fi theme going on there," Mast says. He emphasizes this on the record by including in the insert a small bit of text written by one of Mast's friends, sci-fi writer Mark von Schlegell (it begins: "Imagine a dark sphere that is all the time and space in the universe").
But the album's biggest leitmotif resides in its title. "It's in reference to spending so much time on the record, and the mountain was that I needed to have this big, weighty project done," he says. "In the end, I just had to sit down and have a good time and play around with beats and melodies and not worry about the big picture."
SEE IT: E*Rock releases The Clock & the Mountain on Friday, May 27, at Rotture. 9 pm. $5. 21+.