Photo by Christopher Wilson
California/Berlin production team Lazer Sword spent much of their early years working on glitchy, bassy variants of instrumental hip-hop, most notably Bay Area hyphy music. Recently, however, the duo have inched ever closer to European club electronics, draining off much of the excess of that early template. Lando Kal’s (his other half is Low Limit) solo material has recently moved in a svelte house direction, and he’s been releasing for reputable overseas imprints like Hotflush and Rush Hour’s Direct Current. Lazer Sword have followed suit, and Memory, their second LP proper and first for Modeselektor’s Monkeytown imprint, showcases just how far their refinement has come.
Despite what hip-house apologists might tell you, electro is probably the most logical bridge between hip-hop and dance music, and Lazer Sword exploit that link throughout the album. Memory is almost aggressively different from their last, self-titled LP (there are, for example, no guest MCs here), but their past is evident in the booming low-end and skipping, angular patterns on tracks like the centerpiece “Pleasure Zone.” The track resembles what Jimmy Edgar (who guests on “Let’s Work”) might sound like if he went for a more linear approach, or perhaps Instra:mental if they were given a long massage and a sense of humor. It doesn’t especially scream “fun,” but the limber arrangement pushes the incessant femme-bot refrain to the right side of inviting.
“Pleasure Zone” showcases the LP’s greatest strength, a sense of new found maturity that, while maybe a little unexpected (these guys do have a track about wearing a Gucci sweatshirt), is extremely welcome. “People” is an impressive fusion of Kassem Mosse-style shuffling drums and a looping, hypnotic melody with a kinetic array of sounds, including acid stabs and clipped vocals. For all the bandying about how that producer is influencing UK-style house, few have mimicked his drum patterns quite so well. Memory slides easily under that ambiguous, UK-centic, mutant dance-music banner, and accordingly several of its tracks are mutations. On “Toldyall,” the duo supplement a footwork tumble with hints of breaks and yawning, luminescent synthesizer, while on “Better From U” they push the nosediving, “seasick” vocal and melodic tropes of contemporary garage to hallucinatory extremes. And “Point of Return” suggests a more sinister, broken version of Miami bass, steadily growing from quaking sparseness into frenetic 4/4 in its final half. It’s dark, but hardly po-faced. Like much of Memory, it shows Lazer Sword striking a balance between their flamboyant past persona and more emotional, adult new one, at once hyperactive and precise.