Since emerging as an underground hip-hop producer in the late 2000s, Lee Bannon has made a career of confounding expectations. His Ninja Tune debut, Alternate/Endings, found him all but abandoning hip-hop, instead crafting a love letter to the '90s output of jungle labels like Reinforced and Metalheadz. Late 2014 EP Main/Flex continued Bannon's infatuation with jungle, but added post-dubstep/garage elements à la Burial. Pattern of Excel, Bannon's second Ninja Tune full-length, is another total left-field shift, this time forgoing beats almost entirely, entering the realm of ambient/drone. The album concentrates on the bizarre sonic manipulations that were always present in Bannon's work, but this time they're divorced from hip-hop or drum'n'bass rhythms, creating free-flowing passages that don't always suggest structured songs. The detached sounds, distorted elements, and non-musical sounds (such as voices, footsteps, typewriters, and trains/subways) are woven throughout fragile melodies and atmospheres reminiscent of Vangelis' gentler, less bombastic moments. Bannon's sample manipulations sometimes suggest the post-modern data barrage of Oneohtrix Point Never circa R Plus Seven, or perhaps a less hyperactive Holly Herndon, and the album additionally brings to mind Leaving Records' more outré, genre-vaporizing artists such as D/P/I and Ahnnu. The album's most stunning moment is "Aga," which has a terror-filled synth melody and tense bass-heavy beat, coming close to the darker end of the Tri Angle roster, particularly the Haxan Cloak or Forest Swords. "Inflatable" curiously appears to be a re-edit of Autechre's iconic "Second Bad Vilbel," cutting up the track's caustic beats and white-noise bursts, and adding some fidgety electronic buzzes. "Memory 6" comes close to arriving at a U.K. garage-inspired beat but stops at just the hi-hats, ticking around shifting textures, strings, and static. Other tracks consist of dreamlike collages of clicking and rumbling sounds, drizzling static, and ominous, distorted piano draped with lush, foggy synth tones. Unpredictable and ruthlessly abstract, Pattern of Excel is possibly the most avant-garde release in Ninja Tune's long history, and may seem like a stark departure from Lee Bannon's earlier works, but it's really just a continuation of his tendency to follow his fearlessly creative spirit into uncharted territory.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson