Dancefloor dynamics remain remote; but Actress beguiles with uncommon production nous.
Chris Power 2012-04-17
Actress’ Splazsh was one of 2010’s best albums, Darren Cunningham’s collisional production style creating extraordinary hybrids of everything from Detroit techno and jack house to 2-step garage, EBM and funk-rock. Since then there have been some excellent original 12”s as well as remixes of Kodiak, Panda Bear and Radiohead (as Thriller Houseghost, with Lukid) that further underline Cunningham’s ability to plot his signature post-genre course through the electronic music landscape.
One key to deciphering that signature is a fundamental instability, one that’s generated either by restlessness or uncertainty. Actress tracks tremble and blur as they search for a solidity their structure can’t provide. This is true even of a track as minimal and repetitious as last year’s Rainy Dub, which somehow never feels like an unvarying loop: Actress tracks always seem to be captured in the process of becoming, feeling their way in a new, strange world.
That’s clearer than ever on R.I.P., where dancefloor dynamics are more remote than on either of his previous albums. It isn’t until the ghostly Detroit techno of the fourth track, Marble Plexus, that a muddied kick drum is utilised. R.I.P. profits from the retreat: it’s an album that envelops even as it blurs and drifts, its hooks no less insistent for their subtlety.
Those hooks inhabit the crystalline trickling of Holy Water - as affecting as snd at their most skeletally soulful - as well as the tentative beauty of Uriel’s Black Harp, its stuttering strings and roaming fizzes of surface noise feeling like first steps. This mood spills into Jardin, an album highlight, which in its paradoxical blend of profound calm and inability to rest is reminiscent of Bill Evans’ Peace Piece. The way its treated piano notes are situated in relation to a rhythm built from glitch fragments and what might be car tires on wet tarmac offers a fine example of how Cunningham’s tracks are knitted together from disparate sound sources. This is the duck-billed platypus school of digital production.
R.I.P.’s structure supposedly references Milton’s Paradise Lost and the book of Genesis, but listeners might find the concept a limiting one, despite its scope. What persists here is far less epic, but also more penetrating: it’s the way Cunningham infects the algorithmic certainty of his software with an all too human tentativeness, a trait that makes the album’s title not a stock phrase, but something longed for.