Tuesday, 6 April 2010

RECOMMENDED: Actress - Paint, Straw & Bubbles/Maze [Honest Jon’s] & Machine & Voice EP [Nonplus+]

In advance of his eagerly awaited (from these quarters at least) second album Splazsh, Werk boss and enigmatic beat-chemist Darren Cunningham has just released a pair of beguiling 12”s under his Actress moniker. You can recognise an Actress track from a mile off - even though his more recent material displays a greater willingness to experiment than his magical Hazyville album - Cunningham’s music is defined by an instantly familiar sense of place. Tracks like ‘I Can’t Forgive You’ and sub-heavy house workout ‘Crushed’ exude a peculiar phosphorescent glow, their intensity heightened by an almost unbearable claustrophobia that presses inward as though the walls themselves are drawing nearer.

Similarly, both of the tracks on his first release for Honest Jon’s wrap themselves tightly around the listener while hinting at wide-open spaces just beyond the music’s confines. It’s a delicate balancing act – ‘Paint, Straw and Bubbles’ is almost impenetrably austere, its hypnotic spiral patterns so abstract that listening feels more like a feat of voyeuristic pleasure than one of physical connection. This distance only serves to enhance its atmosphere of deep-seated unease. ‘Maze (Long Version)’ on the flip offers more immediate gains, as thick bass frequencies and sparse electronic percussion generate a beautifully languid piece of stoned techno that seems far shorter than its six-minute runtime.

While the ‘Paint, Straw and Bubbles’ 12” offers curiously timeless artefacts, his plate for Instra:mental’s Nonplus+ label betrays its dance music lineage far more directly. ‘Machine & Voice’ does exactly what it says on the tin, playing an industrially rigid drum machine beat off against chopped ‘n’ sliced vocals. About halfway through, a woozy drift of melody, ripped straight from Flying Lotus’ ‘Parisian Goldfish’ school of sleaze, punctures the track’s heart for an all too brief few seconds before submerging again. ‘Loomin’ ratchets up the tension further, drowning a skeletal beat in waves of found sound and police sirens fading into the distance, and ‘Und U Boat’ is simply sublime, its lethargic hip-hop pace offset by the kind of aquatic melody that Highpoint Lowlife’s 10-20 has been making his own as of late.

What remains so intriguing about Actress’ music, despite its occasionally impenetrable exterior, is its constant sense of exploration. Just as he completely deconstructed Joy Orbison’s peak-time wonder ‘The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow’ to leave only its trace elements behind, he displays a defiantly unconventional bent on this collection of new tracks. Never staying still for a moment, and as in thrall to the cool mechanical motion of Throbbing Gristle and This Heat as to the UK dance music he is usually associated with, Cunningham remains an artist happy to work outside any confining notions of genre or scene. If these are anything to go by, Splazsh should be fascinating, unsettling and chilling in equal measure.

Words: Rory Gibb
Out: Now & Now


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