Lageos by Actress x London Contemporary Orchestra

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Lageos is released by Ninja Tune on May 25th (2xVinyl, CD) and it is the latest by Actress (Darren Jordan Cunningham) in collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra, and this thing is a big departure from last year’s playful experimental techno on AZD. Composed of ten tracks, this new record sets out to stun with isolationist atmosphere and stunted effects, from the top of the title track.

The mood is radically experimental, especially when the distorted violin makes its way through the haze of the sonic detritus. Many contemporary electronic artists have worked with orchestras (Jóhann Jóhannsson, Spiritualized, Pet Shop Boys, Sigur Rós, Björk, Visage) but here Actress takes the lead conducting role instead of becoming a simple infusion within any old symphony. Undiluted, this defines and defies what a perfect fusion of style and substance should be, captured tangibly on Momentum. It’s dreamy layers allow all musicians to play on an even footing that is simultaneously earthy and ethereal. And I think I may have heard a touch of electro-theremin atop a light wash of midrange white noise drone – satisfying to mature ears. The ending is so drawn out, no rush or dramatic conclusion – it simply stretches way out.

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About here this is what most would definitely experience as music to chill out to, the type that has sparkling, finite detail at most turns. It’s also something I’d recommend listening to via vinyl because the low-end would likely become even more enhanced for the audiophile in all of us, especially after some wear. There are some of his usual blares and bouncing balls, but here the blend is orchestrated in the tight balance of live instruments and electronics in harmony, even at its most atonal. The repetitive Japanese strings on Chasing Numbers are met with the delicate harp and the staccato stomp of Merce Cunningham-like percussion. It’s an unusual piece, reminiscent of playing with an old video game cartridge when your system has been long updated and the reaction is unexpected. The Chaos Rain is a lovely little lost piece under the wing of two bolder works that steal its echo. Surfer’s Hymn takes over with pre-programmed beats and a hollowed out bamboo vibraphone. It’s one of the few times here where the conversation seems detached, quizzical when the dance beat sounds like an argument and the soft sweet vibes are a calming force.

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Audio Track 5 hastens right to a funky jam, complemented by wiggly electronics and toy piano. Here I’d imagine remixes will be delivered as it’s the only distinguishable pure Actress-like piece in this larger mix. Though the track in no one diminishes the integration between experimentation and virtuoso, showing that they are inverse mirrors of each other, however embedded. The crank and circumstance of Voodoo Posse, Chronic Illusion is instantly infectious. Tick-tock goes the impeccable meter on this track with its elusive funk and mysterious casanova stings. It’s likely my stand-out piece here, with perfect percussive elements and a sweet breathy groove.

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In the end we are left with the initial flux of Hubble which warms up like a big beat soup and woody percussion. This is the closest the album gets to jazz, with minor Asian inflections. It’s a moving track though I would swap out tracks nine and ten for a more dramatic conclusion. Otherwise the fade out here sounds more like perhaps there will be a part two to this collaboration?….. I guess it’s always good to be left wanting more.

 

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