Lukid, Lonely At The Top

Photo by Alex MacLean

[Werk Discs / Ninja Tune]

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Werk Discs stalwart Lukid is easily mistaken for an Actress stand-in, repping a signature sound at home while label boss Darren Cunningham releases his own tunes through Honest Jon’s. True, there are more than a few sonic parallels — particularly a recent shared fondness for sidechained compression — that give the impression that Lukid’s latest album, Lonely At The Top, and R.I.P are two sides of the same coin. These nagging comparisons would seem like more of an affront to Luke Blair’s originality if it wasn’t clear that some listeners prefer Lukid’s more coherent take on rain-warped techno to that of his supposed overlord. Indeed, without exactly being dance-floor fodder, Lukid’s melody-driven music is more straightforwardly serviceable than Actress’ stylized approach. While on the surface Lonely At The Top has much in common with Actress’s latest release, beneath this veneer, Blair’s fourth LP in six years is his strongest and most distinctive work to date.

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Lukid’s earlier releases thumped dusty samples into forlorn swirls of atmosphere, suggesting an equal affinity with LA’s experimental hip-hop scene, particularly the dulcet sound of Teebs. Doing away with clean, organic sounds while resisting straight techno rhythms, he pushes that sensibility to an overdriven extreme on “This Dog Can Swim.” Built around a bass line that worms and squelches in time with a bombastic drum pattern that sprays junk bits with every snare hit, its immediate brashness is tempered by the way Blair assuredly pilots the melody. The patient ticking hi-hats and stumbling beats of “Laroche” and slanting arpeggio of “Talk To Strangers,” on the other hand, seem to fall back into rather than strain against the distressed fidelity, which adds an additional layer of warmth to already hooky tracks.

Much of Lonely At The Top is peppered with sonic artifacts, like the pops that lag beneath “USSR”‘s measured synth loop and are echoed in its abrupt metallic hi-hats, or overdriven till the sounds take on charmingly degraded secondary textures. Chord, from 2010, was denser than its predecessors too, but didn’t suggest the lo-fi antics on display here. The digital steam is an overground echo of R.I.P‘s humid catacombs, and a structural part of the album’s appeal in that it gives Lukid free reign to indulge his particularly British gift for phlegmatic melodies. When the beats fall away, as they do on interludes “Snow Theme,” “Tomorrow,” and “The Life Of The Mind,” we’re left with superb dreamy ambience that’s all the more effective for its single-mindedness.

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This isn’t the way we normally expect producers to evolve. It is not much more involved than embracing and making use of awkward-sounding distortion and gain to make the same point in fewer words. For some, these are homely and obvious truths no matter how they’re said. It’s true that this album lacks the conceptual suggestiveness and risk of R.I.P, but on the other hand, there’s very little to buy into or take a leap of faith on. Sonically terse but emotionally rich, the Lukid of Lonely At The Top shares its vocabulary, but has much to say in its own language.

aaron.  on November 6, 2012 at 1:08 PM

Good review for a great little record… unsure what exactly a phlegmatic British melody is, though.

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