Monday, 25 February 2013

Lusine - The Waiting Room


Ghostly International's description of categorized releases, on first look, reads like some retail store philosophy: doing this reflects passion and commitment...but this too is equally important...oh yes, we're all for that too, look we do care see? See?! Opportunistic fakery and bullshit aside, what makes International stand out a lot better than your atypical supermarket or clothing outlet is that the bold statements and theasaurus-reliant passages are backed up by its diverse and intriguing catalogue. Ghostly International is home to some recent favorites in the broad sweep of branching-out electronic music; Matthew Dear, Gold Panda, School of Seven Bells - all of which recognized and gratefully embraced by the listening World. One of the lesser-known, but still musically-viable acts on the label is Jeff McIlwain's Lusine alias. McIlwain, in the space of seven years has managed to become of the few artists/producers that has managed to be plunked out and dropped squarely into the IDM tag, yet at the same time, manage to escape its suggestiveness without upsetting either camps in and out of the genre. What makes McIllwain an intriguing case is that his electronics remain experimental - or intelligent if you really want to revert to that field - while at the same time reverting his cases to an underpinned identity. His more ambient offerings don't fall too deep into obscurity, while at the same time his melodic releases previous still have enough of a lasting justification to return to. On the face of it, 2013's The Waiting Room may be, in an earlier time, a concept album focusing on some synesthesia-like response to a given theme. Likewise in that earlier period, it might have been heavily praised/panned for its one-line description.

However, what you'll find instead - in a contemporary time where electronic music has grown, nurtured and perhaps be overplayed as a theme for subject matter - is Lusine branching out into a commercial territory that much unlike its cover, explores a field of music that is anything but idle and stationary. Opening track Panoramic sets things off quite smoothly and briskly in an shade of ambient synths that gradually build momentum until the track's primarily upbeat stature is made. The track's throbbing drumbeat takes centre stage here, and while the wavered drone of electronics continue through, they gradually become more and more infused and centralized within the track. Nevertheless, Mcilwain's focus on percussion sets the track off in a fairly momentum-driven manner and despite the interestingly runny textures and oily slickness in the synths' soaking into the drums in the closing section, there's little deviation from this pattern. Or even, to add to that, any real diverse experimentation to suggest the music really changes gear at any point. With follower Get The Message, Lusine's palette is a lot more crisper and deeper in regards to how harder-hitting the click of drums and hill-sloping trope of synths are. The inclusion of vocals however give this track a vaster pop-like maturity, and it's inclusion here that offers the music the opportunity to cast itself as more the focused and directed piece, as opposed to simply a fully-open, up-in-the-air vagueness.

But it's Lusine's more pop-orientated takes on this album that I feel become more and more the highlight in the long-term, not only because it's a newer and diverse form of production and composing, but its deliverance actually works to his established palette. The more I listen to Lucky, the more I get a sense that this is something Röyksopp or Groove Armada may pull off on a whim with little hassle. Yet the way Lusine comes to this with, admittedly, lesser expertise and still pulls it off quite remarkably, leaves me fairly pleased. The track has a sumptuously quirky sequence of beats, but it's the unorthodox approach to its rhythm that works to the man's favour. And alongside the rich slightly-withdrawn positioning of vocals, the track comes off a lot more beneficially venturous and forward-thinking. On Telegraph, is by default, an IDM track trying not to be IDM, and by that I mean that it's [attempting] convincing us it's content - in its own vibrant demographic of buzzing synths and lightly-textured percussion - is anything but mildly time-filling. Though still fairly bare in its deliberation as to where it's going sonically, the slow locking-together of synths and drumbeats do provide a very brisk and journeyed scope of sound. And while this isn't energizing addictiveness or objectively memorable in its production choice, the beats are without question, hook, line and sinker in catching my attention.

But catching my attention, leaves open a very wide and questionable door into how far Lusine is willing to play around with his equipment in order to make a sound that's both worthwhile yet at the same time compelling enough to be considered simply not a rehashing. I'm enticed on a track like Another Tomorrow, initially for its playful stripping-back of electronic sounds - beats coming off amateurish, but fruitfully lavish all the same - and gradually, as the song builds, for (once more) proving that McIlwain himself can work his sound around a pop-orientated perspective. Nevertheless, given how fresh and joyous the rhythm is on this track, it doesn't excuse the fairly modest lack of differentiation in where it is the track is leading its listener. It's the same reason why Without A Plan, by contrast, works so well. On the production side, Lusine takes to splitting his components into two groups: the rhythm half and the tonal half. While the former has a very effective pulsing bass dropping in open place, it's the dreamy scope of synths in the latter that gives the track a fresher - and enjoyable - end product. It even leaves a viable let-off as to why the vocals come across underdeveloped and/or misplaced amid the mix, because in the end, it's intent is that it wants to be obtuse and ambiguous, but not in (perhaps) an amateurish or lazily manner.

But it's album highlight First Call that demonstrates Lusine's knack for electronic melodies while still laying comfortably amid the field of rhythm and tentative hook-lines. From the very first 4/4 sequencing of ear-hopping beats, McIlwain carefully crafts a track that is as much for the colourful sprawl of disco dance-floors, as much as it is a homeward bound reflection for an intimate listen-along. There's something inordinately melancholic, yet fulfilling, about Lusine's production here. Whether it be the choppy splatter of vocals, the increasing tension of synths, the continuing marching of drum beats, more and more it shapes itself out to be a step into - to give a personally note-worthy example - Lindstrøm battlegrounds and Boards of Canada territory. It's that [on-paper] bizarre matching up of disco synths and analog electronics, that (to great effect) gives the track a rich and cunningly intense atmosphere that, in the end, leaves this track ending up as one of Lusine's best to date.

Though the concept of emotion and humanity still lingers on follower By This Sound, I'm inclined to feel a lot more optimism and positivity breathing its way through this track. Lusine remains focused on his use of clotted percussion and whirling synthesizer hooks, but it's the production side - and the smother of reverb he applies in result - that will catch the listener's ear, for better or worse. Regardless, the monotonous augmentation of vocals that feature here are possibly the weaker of the more human offerings on this album, but it doesn't necessarily hinder what drive and momentum Lusine manages to build in the instrumental side to the track, even if the length at which he gives the eventual unveiling of the music's more complete composition is, at the very least, debatable. February ends the album by adding plenty of space and [cosmic] space elements to meet Lusine's disco-friendly techno-vibed palette. The track, however, manages to keep itself at ground's height in its steady rumptuous delivery of bass synths and low-key percussion before the gradual unveiling of tone and texture begins to surface. The music however is a lot more dance-orientated than previous tracks, and we finally get a taste of Lusine's own methodology in working to larger crowds as opposed to simply laying dormant in mechanics and solitary listening areas. It's the squeaky-clean pristeeness to the main synth's tone that gives the music a much fresher sound than previous offerings, but despite this there's nothing lost in the focus on analog sounds and layered vocals that stir and float about the mix. 

It's this admirably respectable mixing up of sound aesthetics and orientations on where it is the electronics travel, nevertheless, that sets Lusine out against the majority of musicians in a field that often - still - gets tagged under the same-old 'IDM' identity. While I wouldn't go as far as to say The Waiting Room is deliberately made out to be intelligent music, it's without question music that is both danceable and worthy of multiple listens, not because it takes a required additional moment or two to process, but rather the ideas showcased on this ten-track album are some of Lusine's finest of his career to date. Where the album falters slightly in its somewhat linear mechanical stance - showing less developmental diversity than perhaps what the music suggests in its early stages - it improves in parts when it manages to escape the confine of its synthesized flutter of being, and instead succeeds in encapsulating a fair few emotive responses from its listener. But beyond that, it demonstrates Lusine working in a field perhaps many may not have associated with his line of electronics: contemporary pop in as much a fresh and lively flicke of tone, as much as there is a slight electronic shoegaze hint in equal measure. It's this less-withdrawn variance that suits Jeff McIlwain's 4/4 sound quite well. But it's when it sits neatly alongside his more intimate home-dwelling electronics, that the ideas offered on this record, cast a great light on an artist who still loves to discover, and to great effect, is adamant in letting his listeners know it.
~Jordan

7.5

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