Actress - AZD

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2017-04-14

Actress is British producer (and former West Bromwich Albion football player) Darren Jordan Cunningham, a veteran of the electronic scene who's now releasing his fifth album, AZD. While it doesn't sound like much of what's coming out lately, and is therefore being viewed as a bold new vision by some, it's just loaded with old electronica influences that give away the game. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on here, but I can't avoid hearing the audio echoes of bygone decades reverberating throughout the entire set. To be clear, I'm absolutely not complaining about it. This is the kind of music that lets you listen to it as much or as little as you want, and it works on all levels.

Many of the tracks would comfortably fit on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92. 'Visa' has echoey, muted pulses and beats in the background that sound like electrified whip cracks with a burbling melody at the forefront. 'Fantasynth' hides a quiet, slightly off-kilter synth in the shadows while a frantic, repetitive beat circles around and around like an unhinged robot. 'Blue Window' had deep, calm beats, a gentle melody, and frizzled static sheen. 'There's an Aangel in the Shower' stuffs a quiet piano in the corner, then puts tea kettle percolations in front, which blend into delicate, ethereal pads and little melodic spirals.

'Faure In Chrome' is very brittle, with fragile strings and tinny, reedy squeaks and squawks, sounding much like some of Autechre's earliest, more ambient work. There's a layer of scratchiness snuggling right up against your brain that permeates the tune, making it feel incredibly intimate. 'Dancing in the Smoke', meanwhile, is a nod to Autechre's more challenging mid-career output, with erratic beats, microscopic clicks and bleeps, and surges of shattered, sideways keys. 'Visa' is relatively active, almost frenetic with its whip crack percussion, staccato stabs, and bubbling, upbeat synth lead.  'Runner', too, has a dancier feel, humming along on its faintly familiar melody.

'Falling Rizlas' leads off with a warbly bass, and mixes in sweetly chiming synths, bringing to mind the semi-serious ramblings of u-Ziq, while 'X22rme' features quirky, bright melodies reminiscent of Spacetime Continuum. 'Cyn' gets a bit harder with a rapped vocal sample and pounding beats girding numinous, hazy pads and creepy leads. It's definitely the most unsettling track on the album, with a schizophrenic mix of sounds and styles all jumbled up together.

AZD is essentially a love letter to 90s electronica, sending audio nods in all directions to the masters of the era. It's an absolute smorgasbord of sound, a feast of aural delights for the discerning IDM connoisseur. Actress is clearly a student of the old ways, and something of a chameleon to boot, able to play around in a lot of neighboring styles. In places it feels like it's taking place in the most underground of clubs due to the almost grimy, muted nature of a lot of the components, as if you can almost smell the fetid water dripping from the ceiling in spots. Not to say the entire thing is filthy, but there's an aged, worn feeling to things, like it was dug out of an old box. There's nothing paradigm-changing, but for such a retro-tastic work, that makes perfect sense, especially from someone who grew up in England during its electronic heyday. Think of it as rock-solid re-examination of the golden age of electronic music, and you'll get plenty of enjoyment out of it.

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