Boxcutter, The Dissolve


Timothy James Andrew

[Planet Mu]


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Albums tend to fall into three categories of cohesion: the relentlessly consistent; the wildly careening; and that sought-after middle-ground of varied takes on a consistent theme. Of the three, the last is undoubtedly the hardest to achieve. On his fourth album, The Dissolve, Northern Irish producer Barry Lynn, aka Boxcutter, attempts navigating this third path but falls prey to wilder turns. It’s an album that finds multiple devices to help pull it together — a strong undercurrent of modern funk, a title that’s named after the film technique of fading between two shots — but despite some stellar tracks and ideas, the sum of its parts just doesn’t add up to a coherent whole.

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The funk starts on opener “Panama,” with light disco beats, horn blasts, and squiggly bass lines. There is a retro quality to the song that is followed up on with “Zabriskie Disco” and the neo-soul quality of Brian Greene’s vocals on “All Too Heavy” Yet that quality disappears into the mutant grime of “Cold War (vs Ken & Ryu),” only four songs into the album. This last, though, marks one of the strongest and most compelling songs, comparable to something Hyperdub’s progressive camp might have written. With a deep synth bass rolling over clattering kicks and claps, it marks a huge shift from the disco-era sounds of the album’s opening.

After the slow, contemplative guitar-laden “Passerby,” the screen fades back into the funky “TV Troubles,” with synths flying all over the place in bright colors. The title track sits in the middle of the album and again features Greene on vocals, but this time it’s a wispy, lightly rhythmic synthetic-folk song without much resemblance to the rest of the album except for “Passerby.” At this point, both slow movements and funk influences seem to fade out completely as the rest of the album is mostly devoted to more uptempo explorations of 2-step and juke, with “Allele” joining “Cold War” as one of the album’s highlights. Tech-heavy clicks open the track before echoing piano stabs herald the arrival of a towering, rumbling low-end and furious 160+ BPM programming. Like Machinedrum and Addison Groove’s recent takes on juke and footwork, Boxcutter brings his considerable studio skill to bear on the production of this track, making for sonically rich and hard hitting sounds that rewinds all the way back to a hardcore breakbeat before its end.

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Surrounding this monumental track are garage-influenced tracks like “Moon Pupils,” with its skeletal drums and more dubstep-leaning explorations such as “Topsoil.” By the time The Dissolve wraps up with a reprise of the wispy title track’s aesthetics on “Ufonik,” there is a sense of bewilderment about where exactly the album started. This disjointed barrage of rhythms and influences makes it hard to process certain moments, and only the truly out of place tracks stand out. There is little doubt Boxcutter is an exciting and skilled producer who has made a collection of tracks that are fantastic on their own. But taken as an album, the overall picture is difficult to comprehend, even though it’s built around the theme of blurred transitions.

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