Peter Holslin needs a new pair of rave gloves
I’ve been spending time lately surfing the Billboard charts to get a sense of what’s reaching the top of the Hot 100. Naturally there’s some real lowest-common-denominator shit up there. But what’s more interesting (and perhaps unsurprising) is the wide array of sounds and style on offer up in the Top 10. On the one hand you’ve got your ’80s throwback hipster-bait, on the other hand some ’50s-era marriage worship. Then of course there’s a stone-cold banger in the form of “Trap Queen,” as well as a classic blockbuster in “Bad Blood,” which relies on a pop/rap hybrid formula and a blockbuster team-up to secure its position as the most inevitable No. 1 hit of the year so far.
If you run a search for Hudson Mohawke on the Hot 100, you won’t find his name anywhere. (Not at the moment or as a solo artist at least—he’s still lent his production efforts to major rap numbers like Kanye’s “Blood on the Leaves” and Drake’s “Connect.”) But that doesn’t mean the 29-year-old Glaswegian producer isn’t reaching for the stars. His new album Lantern isn’t as dumb or as shrewd as the biggest pop records, but it does share with the heavier hitters a certain wide-scale ambition and omnivorous attitude. The perfectly quantized synth lines, Looney Tunes-humongous kicks, and swooning cameos by singers as diverse as Antony and Jhené Aiko—it all adds up to make an ideal accompaniment for LED-powered megaclubs and relationships mediated via app.
As in previous Hudson releases, Lantern is filled with plenty of whimsical tones and beats. Witness the digital chord shimmers of “Very First Breath” or the robotic booty bounce of “Lil Djembe,” which consists of a bunch of differently pitched drums popping all over the place. But the guy born Ross Birchard is definitely more of a producer than a songwriter, which in pop terms puts him at a distinct disadvantage against powerful Swedes like Max Martin and Shellback. Hudson’s deficiencies in the melody and harmony department show through in “System,” a track that’s all synthesizer razzle-dazzle with zero emotion to back it up. You can hear it even more in “Kettles”—though some critics might give Hudson brownie points for switching things up with a bombastic orchestral arrangement, to me this only seems to highlight the lack of nuance in his boxy melodic phrasings and predictable Disney swells.
Yet with help from a handful of vocalists, Hudson manages to muster some great pop moments on Lantern. R&B singer Miguel aches with longing in “Deepspace,” while in “Indian Steps,” Antony from Antony and the Johnsons (impressive that he’s on this thing and fits so well) lays multi-tracked murmurs atop a lustrous bed of electronics. But the most exciting track by far is “Warriors”—a delicate, bracing, digital-kid anthem that calls for true connection in an age of media noise.
Like A$AP Rocky’s “L$D,” this tune falls somewhere between pop and hip-hop, with Ruckazoid half-rapping, half-singing in a sleek falsetto over a twitchy interplay of kicks and synths. But then he makes way for a chorus that’s as epic as a cityscape:
“ ’Cause, we might lose a battle but we’ll win the war / And we don’t care cause love is what we’re fighting for.”
I know people have been bandying about terms like “future bass” and “future pop” a lot lately, but Lantern does feel like a stylistic step forward. If Hudson Mohawke was previously known for his production maximalism, here he parlays that into an even mightier pop universalism. And while his efforts don’t always pan out, they’re rejuvenating all the same.