Illustration by Arian Behzadi
You Stand Uncertain is the second album by hyper-prolific New Yorker Drew Lustman, who has seemingly released a new record every month since his first album, Love is a Liability, in 2009. Even those who have marginally dipped into that catalog will attest to his chops. Lustman’s manic signature sound is very New York, and not just in its garage shuffles and frequent organ-stab throwbacks to the early ’90s. His tracks’ elements often sound like they’re echoing from a few blocks over, imbued with the sort of cavernous dub heard on Gang Gang Dance or Excepter records. As a result, he has a considerable amount of room in which to maneuver, and its this sense of hectic possibility that’s made his output so fascinating thus far.
Fittingly, then, You Stand Uncertain features some new strides, including his first collaborative tracks with vocalists. “Gospel Of Opal” opens the album in a pensive state, as Anneka’s dreamy presence accompanies a reduced, twinkling arrangement of wavering tones and miniature guitar. Things unfold gracefully from there, as each track seems to nudge the listener on to the next. On “Brazil” and its partial redux, “Waited Patiently,” the other vocal cuts, Lily McKenzie closely approximates Lustman’s trademark quivering R&B samples, and he chops up her voice in a similar way, hanging on her lyrics’ most melancholy passages. Nevertheless, both are among the jazziest, most restrained pieces he’s produced, fully in line with the album’s generally mellow pace and subdued atmosphere.
As a result of this ambience, it can feel like Lustman is on autopilot, and even the heavier tracks here seem to lack the urgency and desperation of his best work. Moreover, a few sounds are recycled from past tracks, and while this is a minor qualm, it does raise questions about how necessary the album is at this point in time. This isn’t to suggest that it’s without highlights, however. He’s tamed some of that nervous energy, and the mood swings come gradually. On “The Pacifist,” a downbeat Latin rhythm stops and starts, only realizing it’s a house track after distant, streaky rave synths finally begin to peek through. The loping “Voyager” is comparable to last year’s “Endeavour” in its draggy groove, while the high-speed workout “Lucky Luciano” exposes the producer’s junglist roots. “It’s All Good” momentarily threatens a garage structure before pulling back to reveal an empty, squashed landscape, its elements locked in a blurred skip that ends far too soon. Although it doesn’t contain anything as shiver-inducing as “Human Meadow” or “All in the Place,” You Stand Uncertain is hardly a sophomore slump. It’s a subtle, immaculately paced album, made up of what is necessarily album material. Lustman has already shown his versatility, but his tracks here are leaps to the side; he has never sounded so comfortable with his machines.