Rob Mazurek is the widely regarded cornetist and creative force behind the Chicago Underground Duo/trio/quartet groups and Isotope 217. In 2001, the then-Chicagoan released 99 Explosions, the first album under his Orton Socket alter-identity. As Orton Socket, Mazurek has shed many associations with his past work, particularly the cornet, and has reinvented himself as an electronicist with a laptop. 99 Explosions is fittingly described by Jim O'Rourke's Moikai imprint as "melancholy electronics," and it appears to be the soundtrack to the following poem that adorns the label of the watermelon-pink vinyl: "I saw a man fishing/With a white net/He stood on red granite/The sea splashing his feet/He throws the net left handed/A sweeping motion/He waits patiently/Slapping the line/Against the pale blue sea." 99 Explosions is an appealing blend of analog, digital, found sounds, and collaborations. Most tracks do not have a foreground rhythmic pulse, but the background unfolding of the album has a distinct rhythmic pace that is never hurried. Yet, the tracks rarely linger and are more like concise vignettes. However, on "Car Lights and Rain," turntable pops and glitches create a fleeting pulse. Likewise, digital loops flicker during "Ice Dint_s," which, due to the contributions of colleagues John Herndon and Matthew Lux, sounds like an Isotope 217 outtake run through a low-pass filter. On "Iron Wire," a quasi-keyboard line which resembles a marimba part from Possible Cube, loops in synchronized delay lines. 99 Explosions has few melodic shapes and seemingly no linear narrative. This absence gives guitarist Jeff Parker's twisted notes greater impact at the end of "Car Lights and Rain." Mazurek's use of digital editing is consistently restrained, as is his use of the stereo field; much of the record is mixed tightly toward the center. Occasionally, for instance on "The Big Door" and "Iron Wire," delay lines push the stereo field outward, and on "Iron Wire" they even create a waltz. 99 Explosions is not formless, however. "Ice Dint_s" repeats itself at the halfway point and "3 Views...4 Sided Garden" has three distinct sections. On "Hydrogen Man," an organ elegy grows increasingly dissonant and distorted until it dissolves into the album's timeless ending. Much of 99 Explosions harkens to the electronic music of an earlier era, particularly that of Ussachevsky and Subotnick. However, the prevailing air of cool detachment makes it an entirely contemporary, Chicago "post" recording. One wonders if the melancholy touches of Mazurek's distinctive cornet playing would have given 99 Explosions a more focused melodic and timbral profile. Rob Mazurek is on a quest to define his voice by redefining it, and Orton Socket looks to be a significant part of his emerging identity.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Kirschenmann