Actress, Machine And Voice

[Nonplus Records]

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Earlier this month, the New York Times‘ ArtsBeat blog ran an assessment of the latest Joy Orbison EP in graph form, in which Andrew Kuo mapped his knee-jerk reactions to each of the record’s three tracks, vacillating between breathless Aphex Twin comparisons and “Fatboy Slim Junior” skepticism. Cute, if a little pat, it speaks to the “buzz about the buzz” situation that Joy’s been saddled with, his music discussed more by a watchful but largely disinterested blogosphere than by his ardent fans. A contributor to that record, Actress (Darren Cunninham) is similarly blessed with high expectations, yet he’s bypassed most of the factional fanaticism of electronic dance music and hardly registered with whatever it is that now occupies the district once known as indie rock. Perhaps it’s that his compression-faded, gray-scale sound is too modest in scale, or simply too murky. There are no sinus-clearing swells in Actress’ music; the sensation is closer to the sound of blood rushing through your ears. The man’s no recondite wall flower, though. His debut album, Hazyville, found its way onto quite a few best-of-decade lists, and his tracks have been licensed by Trus’me’s house-centric Prime Numbers, as well as for two Fabric mixes. The producer’s latest transmissions have made it easier and easier for me to see what it is that so many find special. His records have a nagging familiarity but, at the same time, have trademarked a sound that’s unmistakably “Actress.”

Arriving just before his sophomore long-player, this quick EP for Instra:mental’s red-hot Nonplus imprint takes a more abrasive approach than most of what we’ve heard from Actress to date. As abstract and elliptical as ever, it’s brutally percussive with a taste for glitch and a raw, almost hip-hop sensibility. “Machine and Voice” is built around brisk game console stutters and skeletal, stop-start b-boy rhythms. A morse code of shrill drilling squeals and treated vocal samples — “c’mon,” “get down” — encapsulate the track’s dry brattiness, but the usual Xeroxed veneer mutes any ostentatious tendencies. Reprieve from all the confined micro-hooks does come, though. Blowing in almost halfway through the track, slurred mechanical whirs color in the monochrome palette with the sort of open, vibrant surges that animated 2562’s Unbalance. No such levity is afforded the listener on “Loomin,” a nightvision clamor of cracks and aggro kicks where the scant melody lurks in the background as a menacing accent to a ritualistic warehouse atmosphere. Evocative, stripped-down, and decidedly rhythmic, it suggests a delicious combination of precedents, from Autechre to Jamal Moss to Terrence Dixon. “Und U Boat” slows the tempo, though it’s drums pummel with equal punch. Sterile synths murmur in melancholy chords, while metallic, rusty-hinge creaks cast a spell of fog, drift, and abstraction — a spell which Actress mastered long ago, but which isn’t likely to land him back on the “Aphex Twin to Fatboy Slim” grid anytime soon.

littlewhiteearbuds  on March 31, 2010 at 10:16 AM

Call me crazy, but do I hear a touch of SebastiAn (of Ed Banger notoriety) in this? The distortion/cut&paste/metalic aesthetic of the title track lines up surprisingly well with SebastiAn’s earlier stuff.

Chris Burkhalter  on March 31, 2010 at 11:03 AM

I can see that. At times, I hear a little Kid 606 in it too.

Jordan Rothlein  on March 31, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Good gawd! That Andrew Kuo graphic really rubs me the wrong way.

Otter  on April 7, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Really digging Loomin’!


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