Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Actress - R.I.P.


Actress is the alias of London electronic artist Darren Cunningham. His previous album ‘Splazsh’ was credited as one of the stronger experimental albums of 2010. His debut album 'Hazyville' was released in 2008 to an astonishing amount of praise from the electronic, hip-hop and r&b community because if its string influences and mixed beats which separated itself from any record of the time. R.I.P. sounds like a mix between Global Communication and Tangerine Dream, with a little bit of Flying Lotus poked in there.

Discussion is brewing on whether Actress is changing his direction. His debut was filled with hop-hop aesthetics and he never left the listener in the open with the 'techno' beats. Splazsh took his direction towards more standard forms of electronic music, with a huge emphasis on abstract glitch-hop beats. This time around he's become ambient. The low fidelity nature of Splazsh took old Casio keyboards and turned them into deep electronic sounds, you don’t get this on R.I.P. This album has been toned down and stripped apart of the lo-fi instrumentation and been replaced with soundscapes and powerful synthesizers. The self-titled opening track has a very heavy bass line and a whirling soundscape which plays tricks in my mind with the powerful dark and gloomy instrumentation. 'Ascending' is like a hazy Four Tet track with a very distinct glitch rhythm. It’s hard to call this a beat, but the volume knob has been clearly pulled to follow the 4/4 beat in terms of glitch music. Think of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85 -92, with stripped back reverb.

This music sounds like nothing else out there, it really does. It can fit into the same classification as modern ambient artists and the influx of 'microhouse' musicians such as Nicolas Jaar's latest album and The Field's From Here We Go Sublime. The whole album transcends into one genre shift and instrumental rollercoaster of synth noise and gorgeous ambience. 'Holy Water' takes the 8-bit music to a calmer level with the instrumentation sounding like a waterfall as the whooshing synth drone in the background keeps the track up in the air. 'Marble Plexus' has a very dissonant texture. The distortion in the foreground is met with dreamy synth hooks in the background, this is the recurring theme on this album, with Actress taking full effect of his ability to create dynamic structures within a two/three minute timeframe.

'Uriel’s Black Harp' continues the background ambience and the foreground synthesizer instrumentation which is basically horrifying soundscapes with an oriental feel. 'Jardin' takes it a step further with the slow build up and repetitive bass riff. It’s a six minute track of the same riff mixed with a stark light distortion that reminds me of a fly, and the beautiful keyboard melodies. The track ends with a background burst of sporadic noise which is extremely minimal; this leads into the exciting 'Serpent'. The dark 'chasing' imagery is portrayed on this track, with a Burial-esque string synthesizer melody with the obscure beat and odd distorted fly sounds again. This is one of the most experimental tracks on the album; it’s also the one with a solid beat.

Noises cannot describe the powerful 'Shadow From Tartarus'. After a false start, the distortion and melody take shape in the sense of a Simian Mobile Disco electro-house tune. The track does shape up with a reverberated keyboard section which sounds gloomy and futuristic. It’s a huge difference to the older Actress material, and a change many fans will be welcoming. More futuristic sounds close this track off with a vast amount of delay and reverb. 'Tree of Knowledge' adds greatly to the atmosphere with its heavy bass drones. 'Raven' is one of the strongest tracks on the album with its standard beat mixed with the ever exciting ambience and dark, creepy loud synthesized bass riff. 'Glint' only takes the listener through a voyage of pure space imagery and modulated reverb leading into the killer Burial-esque 'Caves of Paradise'. The vocal simulation and the hazy soundscapes create this vivid atmosphere which has been straightened out by the reverberated and very loud bass riff once again. The instrumentation here is spectacular as the 'wooden' beat rings hard on the right side.

'The Lord’s Graffiti' is like a modern rave instrumental without sentimental value. The bass sounds great, as does the percussion, but the real standout is the eerie synthesizer drone that takes place and increases vigorously as the track grows. 'N.E.W.' introduces an ever darker sound, with a Steve Reich foot in the door here. The amount of reverb used on the synthesizers here is insane, with a very samey bass riff which Actress has used in a similar fashion. The distorted instrumentation fades and allows the listener so much space to get lost within. This track, and many others on this album are very spacious.

'IWAAD' has the beat which bakes your body move. The dance track has a killer syth riff and an exciting array of percussion which takes place mostly on the left speaker at different periods of the track, off beat. The track builds with some ambience and distorted soundscapes come into the foreground which sound very trance like. This track is one of the happiest and most fun on the album. It’s a perfect end to the album in my opinion. The album is extremely spacious and tracks have been placed perfectly, with the harder, louder dance tracks featuring every 3/4 tracks and ambient based tracks being used as transportation between the more abrasive tracks. It’s a magnificent piece of music that has been laid out like nothing before it. The dark instrumentation is memorable and the offbeat rhythms make a mark that cannot be undone. The powerful tracks work with the slower ambient pieces and Actress never fails to leave the listener bored on this album. It's an album of contrasting genres and cannot be simply classified as 'electronic music' because Actress garners a broad range of material within his instrumentals. This has top quality production and has genius ideas; Actress certainly has created an album for the modern stay at home electronic fans.
~Eddie

8.6

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