After issuing three volumes of Patrick Cowley's film scores for gay pornographic movies, among other releases of his lesser-known work, Dark Entries uncovered more previously unheard recordings by the late disco pioneer. Released in conjunction with a homoerotic journal of the same name, Mechanical Fantasy Box is a further collection of Cowley's more experimental works, recorded between 1973 and 1980. While the ecstatic "Right Here, Right Now" is close to the hi-NRG style Cowley was best known for, many of these pieces are spacy explorations that have more in common with early Cluster than dance music. Composed before the era of drum machines and sequencers, the tracks are unquantized and free-floating, with all of the sounds manipulated in real time by hand. When there are drums, as on tracks like the mid-tempo funk jam "Breakdown," they're rough and impulsive. Other tracks seem to find unconventional approaches to rhythm, particularly the way "Moving Bodies I" manages to arrive at soft, clattering beats through rhythmic repetition of various echo and distortion effects. "Grisha's Tune" sounds like Cowley trying his hand at Tropicalia, with a bounty of exotic percussion instruments playing a slightly twisted rhythm and luscious, jazzy melodies played on top. "Lumberjacks in Heat" is an 11-minute tour de force filled with marching drums and synth melodies that progressively become spookier and more unhinged. Later tracks on the album are less muscular and more delicate, including the "Bolero"-like "Before Original Sin" and the gorgeous, Eastern-inspired ambient wash of "Sea of China." While this is some of the most avant-garde music Cowley produced, it's just as passionate and spirited as his disco hits, and never sounds stuffy or academic. Just as fascinating as Dark Entries' previous Cowley releases, this one represents the musician at his freest and most unencumbered, demonstrating his full potential as an artist.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson