Actress, Splazsh

[Honest Jon’s Records]

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Hazyville, Darren Cunningham’s 2008 debut LP as Actress, remains enchanting because of its unrelenting uncanniness, seamlessly crossing genres while deep in narcosis, an elegant record aimed solely at emotional resonance. Like Hazyville, Cunningham’s second album, Splazsh is stylistically diverse, its shapeshifting unified by his predilection for clipped vocal stabs and subtle, droning atmospherics. It’s often rougher than its predecessor, its genre shifts are more drastic, and so perhaps the mood is not as wholly gray. Regardless of any new inflections, though, an Actress track still sounds like precious little else.

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The album kicks off with two previously-released cuts, both of which are among Cunningham’s best work: an abridged version of “Hubble,” from the second Thriller 12″, and a remix of Various Production’s “Lost.” The former hypnotically imitates human-made mechanics in space, smothering a stunted, shivering house beat in slowly oscillating drones. “Lost” uses a similar palette, retaining the broken, ethereal aura with a slightly faster pace, as wispy R&B vocals mingle with bleary melodic tones. The results are entirely haunting, like Theo Parrish’s “Soul Control” if Alena Waters sang while slowly disintegrating; all resigned, inky regret. The churning menace of “Get Ohn (Fairlight Mix)” (seemingly a chopped & screwed version of “Slowjam,” which appeared on Martyn’s Fabric mix) is another highlight. A distorted, swung drum pattern is scattered through blotches of bass weight while an aching alien voice repeats the titular phrase; it’s ominously funky, like a dance hit re-recorded until it’s tape-warped and barely intelligible.

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Much of the album is made up of impressionist genre studies tinged with Cunningham’s hallmarks. The relatively perky “Always Human” flirts with microhouse and the choppier end of garage in its cut-up arrangement, while “Let’s Fly” feels like an homage to Juan Atkins’ Infiniti, linear and dreamy with a vague, murmuring vocal. “Purple Splazsh” evokes a lost Minneapolis instrumental; an overdriven guitar loop and a minimal stop-start drum pattern repeat atop a shimmering, ghostly undercurrent. On “Wrong Potion,” the record takes a sudden turn into brutalist power electronics. The final three tracks follow this trend, all suffused with a metallic clang, recalling Cunningham’s three-track EP on NonPlus+ earlier in the year, as well as Pan Sonic, or Shake’s Levitate Venice. This closing harshness works jarringly, awaking the listener from the hazy complacency of the record’s body. These tracks feel almost violent, a collective warning about becoming too comfortable with technology. Splazsh is essential listening because it represents techno at its purest, as a truly avant-garde music; its engagement with the past only reinforces its futuristic vision. If Hazyville was escapist in the creation of its own soundworld, Splazsh seems more like the product of contemporary interaction, still cloaked in anxious haze, but more manic, visceral and immediate.

Per Bojsen-Moller  on June 8, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Absolutely stunning album. Some of the tracks don’t sound that well mastered, but then part of the raw edge here is from digging through those marshy layers of funk

tom/pipecock  on June 10, 2010 at 1:33 AM

i don’t know how to feel about this. like his first record, i really WANT to like it, but i can’t get into it. on paper, it’s exactly the kind of thing i would dig, but in practice it isn’t working out like that.

adamm  on June 11, 2010 at 1:28 PM

I agree with Tom and it’s a sentiment I feel with most of his work. All the right sounds, done in the right way, but it just doesn’t resonate with me.

Having said that, some of it is beyond awesome. Esp, the first sample here and the second track on the LP (various prods remix).

mark  on June 11, 2010 at 6:36 PM

Going to order this next month. Love the rave sounds.

clom  on June 14, 2010 at 6:29 AM

it’s superb. but like a lot of his stuff it’s not immediate. i heard hazyville and thought “pity it’s not on vinyl” then picked up bits and bobs as they were released on Prime Numbers.

i’ve been playing that Various Productions remix since it was released and the more i play it the more i love it. in fact that’s a characteristic of actress. you pick it up initially and think, “yeah that’s ok” and find yourself going back to it again and again and again.

i’m not sure either hazyville or splazsh actually work as albums but there are very few duds on either.

people should try and track down Thriller 3, if only for the aching space-boogie killer that is “Freak for you”.

stephen k (steve kerr)  on June 14, 2010 at 12:23 PM

yeah, i agree clom…that seems to be the (generally) unanimous experience with actress (certainly mine). but as much as splazsh is about hidden grooves, a lot of it hit me right away, probably due to how raw the production is – whereas hazyville took me months.

both lps do have that manic beat-tape feel, but i don’t know how else he could release his material – i think the cd lends itself best to that sort of sketchiness.

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