Torii MacAdams is the daddy of the mack, daddy
The first time I heard Lone, it sounded like a hip-hop head had gotten really high playing Super Mario Sunshine, and decided to make dance beats influenced by those restive moments in front of his Gamecube. The song was “Once in Awhile,” the cheery steel drums opening Kode9’s DJ-Kicks mix. Since his debut Everything is Changing Colour, Lone’s music has continued to evolve, all the permutations both colorful and hazy, each with their own charms, each a step toward weird horizons. Lone’s new album, Reality Testing, is no exception to that rule.
Lone is, with Reality Testing, now six albums deep into his dance music discography, but the album itself marks an intentional return to his roots– hip hop. Before finding widespread critical acclaim, Lone was just Matt Cutler, one half of the Nottingham-bred rap group Kids in Tracksuits, and his experience as producer in the duo is readily apparent in his music. To label Reality Testing “dance music”* seems reductive when three of the twelve tracks are essentially tweaked, impossible-to-rap-over instrumentals more akin to RJD2’s sonic explorations than any four on the floor track. “2 Is 8” is a particular standout of the rap instrumental-ish tracks; its brassy horn blasts, drums kicks, and bass thumps sound like the best of early 2000’s rap. What sets “2 Is 8” apart from standard rap production, however, is Lone’s near-signature dithering synth lines, which transport the song from its initial offering of cartoonish rap masculinity to a mellow denouement.
The interplay of grandiose intensity and spacey gentleness is Lone’s stock in trade; songs fade into one another, pushing and pulling the listener between bright hyperactivity and pastel relaxation. “Airglow Fires,” surely Reality Testing’s biggest hit, illustrates this point well. Gentle, house music hi-hats quickly give way to bouncy keyboards. Suddenly, the bridge hits. Sparkly chimes fall, a vocal sample ahhhs, and then, just as rapidly as we decelerated, we’re right back into the wild, disparate aspects of the song syncopating. This is all done with a wink and a nod; “Airglow Fires” is both excellent and delightfully goofy. Lone’s music is effortlessly playful– he doesn’t make gimmicky music in the slightest, but polished, breezy tracks for dance floors and summer nights.
Lone’s experience as a producer is obvious; though Detroit and Chicago house are points of reference for him, Cutler eschews the raw analog sounds of classic American house music in favor of hard to achieve, extremely smooth textures. With endless technology at musicians’ fingertips, it’s easier to overproduce anodyne pap than legitimate ass-shaking bangers. Lone carefully toes the line between rawness and overproduction, his music lush and mature without seeming safe, run-of-the-mill dream pop.
Perhaps the most moving song on Reality Testing is “Stuck,” which is built around a looped sample of “Espy,” a spoken word piece by New York skateboarder Shawn Powers. Espy, Powers’ possibly-fictional friend has lost his mind, and, in the words of Powers, “Everything is so fucked up I can’t begin to begin.” Lone rarely uses vocalists or discernible vocal samples; “Stuck” is the only track on the album with lyrics, and is a pulsating, melancholy piece of atmospherics. The video from which the sample originates shows Powers sitting backward-hatted and white-tee’d in a leafy playground, his accent unmistakably New York. “Stuck” is the culmination of Lone’s various influences– urban culture meets swirling synth work.
The artwork for Reality Testing, by Tom Scholefield (a.k.a. Konx-Om-Pax), is representative of the ethos at play. Lone and Scholefield have a symbiotic working relationship; Scholefield’s art for Lone’s previous full-length, Galaxy Garden, was an appropriately slick-looking piece of futuristic sea vegetation. The art for Reality Testing is, on the left side, beige-grey cityscapes, all angles, and the hint of Lone (?)’s forehead. On the right, swirls of light, and, in the middle, the title. Reality Testing is the confluence of street-wise rap music from bleak environs, filtered through the ears of a boy from the Midlands, intermingling with technicolor dreamscapes. Lone’s music is where rap bravado meets the stargazer lilies of understated house music.