Actress – Splazsh (Honest Jon’s) 2LP

July 24, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Actress - Splazsh

Actress - Splazsh

Album of the summer!

This summer, Splazsh – the second album by Actress (aka Darren J. Cunningham) – seems like the ideal solution to the same summer itch that The Field’s Yesterday & Today scratched in 2009. Like Yesterday…, this album offers a highly cohesive collection of deliciously immersive, subtly innovative tech-house, ideal for blasting out of open windows on hot, sunny days.

Sonically though, Actress doesn’t really have the same wide-screen vision as The Field. Indeed, he seems determined to narrow his focus into a wilfully compromised frequency range. Cunningham is the man behind the Werk Discs label and – as such – he is commonly perceived as an adherent to the teachings of UK bass music’s broad church. But there’s not much bass here, just a grainy mid-rage that sounds like it might be emerging from an iPhone across the aisle of a London bus.

Even more than Hazyville (Cunningham’s excellent debut album), Splazsh is an exercise in digital lo-fi, the like of which has rarely been heard since the heyday of glitch, circa 1999. Sounds are down-sampled into dessicated, rubbery strands then time-stretched until the holes start to appear. All the annoying detritus we normally associate with 128k MP3 and laptop speakers is marshalled in the service of an uncannily ear-catching and  shamelessly contemporary sound.

The glitch comparison is apt because what this album perhaps most recalls is the psychedelic sample-splicing of glitch-associated techno producer Akufen. Cunningham has talked inspiringly about using sampling to capture the abstract essence of one’s favourite tunes and deploys this methodolgy to absolutely stunning effect throughout Splazsh, using all the DSP tools at his command to trip almost-recognizable fragments of music into stuttering abstraction.

Still, whereas glitch highlighted the deficiencies of digital audio, with a clear critical agenda in mind, Actress just revels in the decrepitude. And sometimes, it can get to be a bit much. For instance, he harnesses the overuse of compression (a common complaint about contemporary audio production) and channels it creatively into dense tracks that sound fit to burst. But sometimes, as on the “Bubble Butts & Equations”, everything just sounds deflated, with quiet bits that won’t shut up and kick drums that just won’t kick.

For the most part, though, it works wonderfully. There are so many great moments on Splazsh that it’s hard to pick favourites but “Hubble” and “Maze” are particularly tasty. Also, the fact that Honest Jon’s has a policy of getting its vinyl cut by the great Moritz Von Oswald helps to considerably soften the hard edges of Cunningham’s productions. Listening to the MP3s on headphones will probably give you a headache but buy the vinyl at Forced Exposure and throw your windows open and then… well, then you’ll really be making the most of your summer.

Entry filed under: dance, electronica, MP3s, reviews. Tags: , , , .

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