May 25, 2010

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Sach O’s friends described this album as “bubble music”. Sounds about right.

Actress reminds me of Flying Lotus. Not in the derivative fashion that certain lesser Low End Theorists do, but in an alternate-reality, goateed evil twin sort of way. Far from having Swagger-jacked Flylo’s style, Actress’ music feels like an otherworldly reflection of it and vice versa. Both artists make genre defying, marijuana-influenced, Electronica yes, but like twins separated at birth, the differences lie in the details. Chalk it up to their respective environments: whereas Los Angeles and Cosmogramma spit back the G-Funk, Dilla beats, Jazz and the lackadaisical LA lifestyle that have surrounded Lotus since birth, Hazyville and Splazsh reflect the hyper-speed elegance, detached coldness and almost mechanical drizzle of a London winter. It could be the weed too: Flylo’s music is comfortably sedated like Blueberry Kush, Actress’ twitchy and paranoid like high-grade skunk.

In any case, Actress’ latest release Splazsh may invite comparisons, but it most certainly resists classification. Though mostly sporting rigid Detroit-inspired production and a fondness for lazer-synthesizers, calling it techno is about as accurate as calling Bowie’s Low a rock album or Endtroducing Hip-Hop. It protrudes in too many places, constantly wrestling out of the genre’s constraints like a 3 year-old out of a miniature wedding Tuxedo. “Get Ohn” has too much swing, reflecting London’s recent reappraisal of 90’s Garage. “Purple Splazsh” is electro in the classic sense of the word, sounding like something Dam-Funk might have excavated from a thrift-shop basement. “Supreme Cunnilingus” is glitch for a jaded generation and “Always Human” is to House what the Star Wars Cantina band was to jazz: the song sounds like the soundtrack to an arcade/club of the future where everyone is playing virtual-reality games while hopped up on God knows what. Hell, the album’s best track “The Kettle Men” even makes good on the Low End Theory comparisons; delivering a punishingly heavy industrial Hip-Hop groove that’s as dark as it is dirty.

What ties together these disparate influences and the more straightforward techno tracks is the album’s bubbling, heavy murk: Splazsh isn’t just stoned, it sounds like it was recorded inside a bong. Though even the most generous and open-minded of fans would have a hard time classifying anything here as Dubstep, Actress’ music is as informed by the bassweight heaviness of London as anything else the city has produced in the past few years. The only difference is that this heaviness is being refracted through an extremely personal musical worldview. Likewise, Splazsh is also soaked in grit, resisting the cleanliness of typical dance music. Worlds away from a cocaine sheen, this sounds like the work of a techno lover who’s usually too stoned to hit up the club and who’d rather stay at home and work on tunes anyways. Even at its darkest, most dystopian machine music core, the album center-piece “Maze”, the proceedings crawl along at a comparatively glacial pace, entirely too languid for anything more than a lazy shuffle. I’m almost tempted to guess “Maze” was conceived about 25BPM faster and then slowed down…chopped and screwed EDM anyone?

To be sure, “Splazsh” makes few overtures to outsiders: there’s no vocal tracks, no live instrumentation, no obvious single. Still, it remains far more inviting and accessible than anything coming out of Berlin and underneath its seemingly cold exterior, there’s a lot of warmth: these tunes bounce off your brain like ping-pong balls then get stuck. Actress has spent the past two years as one of electronic music’s best kept secrets, flying underneath the indie-stream radar while slowly but surely building up his cred where it counts, but I wouldn’t expect this semi-anonymity to last long. With the ranks of the new generation’s off-kilter, bass-influenced electronic musicians growing daily, both in London and abroad, Actress’ music is destined not only for recognition, but perhaps also for a place it can call home.

Download:
MP3: Actress – “Purple Slazsh”
(Left-Click)