Thursday, 27 May 2010

RECOMMENDED: Actress - Splazsh [Honest Jon’s]

Thanks to Splazsh, I’ve just been reminded that it’s definitely possible to listen to a record too much before starting to review it. In the case of Darren Cunningham’s stunning second Actress full-length, the first for the Honest Jon's label, each repetition reveals hundreds of tiny details that previously managed to slip by unnoticed. Each one of these creates a separate strand of thought, and before long the mind’s struggling to try and weave every thread together into something that resembles a remotely coherent argument.

As a whole entity, what Splazsh shares with Actress' deliciously grainy debut Hazyville is its heady, self-contained quality. Cunningham’s music still sounds entirely unconcerned with the wider world outside the tight confines of its own headspace, possessed of an almost pathologically introspective bent that only begins to open up once you relax your focus and allow it to creep in. The musical equivalent of a magic eye picture then: the less you look, the more you see.

The lead track of his recent single, ‘Paint, Straw & Bubbles’ was a pretty prime example of that aesthetic. Like a jewel on display in a museum case, it appeared different from every angle, as light glinted off each facet of its surface. The nearer you got, the more frustratingly impenetrable it became – until you stopped paying such close attention and the entire thing suddenly began to make sense. With his new full-length Cunningham has picked up where that track left off and expanded his horizons even further. Actress circa-2010 has retained Hazyville’s claustrophobic feel and disconcerting habit of ending tracks at what sound like randomly calculated points and as such as it feels irrelevant to compare the two records, where his first album was a series of study sketches, Splazsh fully develops its ideas into something approaching a finished piece.

Now this is the part where I struggle to construct a reasonable summary of thoughts. It’s not quite enough to say that Splazsh has floored me - though it has, I’ve been lost in its maze-like spaces for the last few weeks and still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface. Its sustained mood is so well-realised that even the album’s shortest and seemingly inconsequential tracks take on an eerie physical presence. The two-minute long ‘Senorita’ drifts in mid-way, as though the needle’s been dropped onto a tiny section of a far longer track, but the way its blurred vocals seem to bleed into the shredded synthwork of ‘Let’s Fly’ gives both tracks a convincing sheen of hyper-reality.

The longer tracks (and there’s a lot of them) are stunningly composed. ‘Lost’ is the finest bit of techno-not-techno I’ve heard in a very long time, its masterful build sustained over a tension-wracked four minutes before everything drops out for a second, then unleashes. The female voices that haunt its darkened spaces are almost terrifyingly lonely, summoning the same spirit of unreal nostalgia as Millie & Andrea’s recent music. ‘Get Ohn (Fairlight Mix)’ might just be even better, grinding along behind an insistent fuzz of radio noise that’s as reminiscent of Broadcast & The Focus Group’s excellent Witch Cults Of The Radio Age as it is of any UK dance music.

In some ways it’s quite amusing that despite often being categorised alongside his contemporaries as part of the ‘bass music’ spectrum, Actress’ music is frequently devoid of the stuff. In any case, Splazsh really doesn’t need it. It’s elusive without being austere or impenetrable, complex without being IDM-ish and stubbornly refuses to land in any genre bracket, as reminiscent of recent synth-heavy albums by the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds as it is of techno, electro, dubstep, whatever. It’s just Actress music, and it’s almost unbelievably great.

Words: Rory Gibb
Out: Now


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