|3||Swimmer of Note||3:21|
|4||Victim of a Narcissist's Tactics||1:01|
|6||Escape the Compound||7:47|
|7||Beyond the Darkened Library||4:18|
|9||Thousands of Years in Fast Forward||2:15|
Western Massachusetts band Landowner play abrasively clean minimalist-punk. Singer Dan Shaw began Landowner in 2016, writing and recording Impressive Almanac with a practice amp and a laptop drum machine. Those available tools would inform the band’s unapologetic sound—clean, confrontational, and absurdly stark. With a stated goal to sound like “Antelope playing Discharge”, Landowner’s diamond hard structures, repetitious instrumentals and caricatured hardcore make space for lyrics that reflect on the global systems our lives are tangled in and the dark absurdities we take for granted.
Landowner’s fourth Born Yesterday full length Escape the Compound focuses on the powerful grips manipulators and reality-deniers have on their victims, examining the social, political and interpersonal damage of cult-like influence and control. “A lot of the lyrics focus on cult manipulators and narcissists: falling victim to their toxic dynamics, and the difficulty of escaping their grip” says Shaw. From climate change deniers and conspiracy theorists to deceptive narcissists and actual cult leaders, Landowner explores the ubiquity of modern unreality through evocative imagery and a keen sense of awareness. The band’s plain instrumentation sheds and subverts hardcore punk’s noisy veil in favor of a direct, unswerving examination of these themes.
Written and recorded following the release of 2020’s Consultant, Escape the Compound finds Landowner leaning into the studio through deeper experimentation with a wider palette of sounds. The group’s lineup of Josh Owsley (bass), Elliot Hughes (guitar), Jeff Gilmartin (guitar), Josh Daniel (drums) and Dan Shaw played often since coming together in 2017. But with pandemic restrictions in place, the making of Escape the Compound became a much more insular pursuit, one where the mixing and mastering process helped turn the band’s most varied batch of material into a cohesive, thematic collection of songs.
Album opener “Witch Museum” is a collage of dark Massachusetts historical imagery. The song evokes a kind of cult dynamic traveling like a shadow through time, where dark absurdities are taken for granted, toxic behaviors are excused, and normalcy begins to shift. The line “Gail's behavior has changed” casts fictional “Gail” as the dark manipulator, whose whim we’re at the mercy of. She sheds her toxic behavior and the crisis finally ends - “and peace returns to the Commonwealth”- an absurdity, given that cult leaders and narcissists rarely seem to change.
By considering the past, Landowner sheds light on the present. The band challenges egomaniacs reluctant to accept an uncomfortable reality with both cynicism and concern. The literal landowner described in “Heat Stroke” collapses in exhaustion, cooked by a suffocating bass line and sizzling hi-hats. “You'd rather die of heat stroke than to let anybody see you change your mind,” Shaw gasps, later pleading with the character in “Floodwatch” to “please reconsider” their brazen stubbornness as they plunge through the rising waters of a flooded road.
The character in “Swimmer of Note” refuses to admit their miscalculations, instead doubling down on an ever-growing and increasingly-unsteady tower of lies. The sneering “Damning Evidence” sets a scene all too familiar: a smoking gun scenario with zero consequences. Shaw’s exaggerated vocal refrains and sarcastic inflections mock false hope: “how will they be expected to keep their minds intact, at the shock of simply hearing such damning evidence?”
“Beyond the Darkened Library” creaks open a secret passageway into a dimly lit, endless labyrinth of conspiracy theories, in which the character becomes hopelessly lost. “Aftermath” sounds the alarms: “stare so long that you start getting used to it; one glance says you should never get used to it.” The pair of “Tactics” tracks express what Shaw calls “an interpersonal microcosm of the album’s themes.”
Perhaps the most ambitious arc on Escape the Compound loosely begins with the title track. The subject in “Escape the Compound” gradually recognizes their own victimhood and plans a calculated flight from the “captivating shepherd” – hop the fence, flee, and regain autonomy. As the narrator escapes their stifling and abusive cult microcosm, a much grander existential timeline begins to appear. “Thousands of Years in Fast Forward” narrates a psychedelic surrender to the shared human experience through space and time, an ego-death adjacent to our ancestry, our own existence, and the before and after. “At the site of the crater, molecular hands unclasp molecular hands as you lose conditioning,” Shaw sings on the title track, “Your grandmother's garden. Your grandmother's kitchen. Your grandmother's primordial ocean.” It’s a profound actualizing glimpse into a true, forgotten reality and a startling reconnection with the self.