In an unusual turn of events, Lusine’s Jeff McIlwain has released his first EP in 4 years, and better than that it’s the first EP since 2003’s Push that features non-album content, so it’s a relatively exciting time to be a Lusine fan like myself. Across his 15 years of producing various electronic musics, there’s always been an unquestionable sensation of knowing that you’re listening to a Lusine (or L’usine, or Lusine ICL) production, despite the subtle shifts in sonic style over the years. Every album seems to build on the experience and unique evolution of its predecessors, and despite being something of an intermediary, Arterial clearly demonstrates a progression in sound since his 2013 stunner The Waiting Room.
Much of the heartache and emotional insecurity that made itself plain on The Waiting Room has also seemingly been brought forward into the constructions here, feeding off the sensations of loss and absence, of being kept at a distance and left alone to question the nature of a relationship. Arterial to me really seems to highlight the nature of technology in the fabric of relationships and friendships, supplementing The Waiting Room’s tenuous and out-of-the-loop grey zone demarcating that technological void that is the airplane. Opener and title track “Arterial” represents the lifeblood of that digital connection, the seething mass of wires and circuit boards filled with an electrical blood that transmits our messages for us, connects us and keeps us together, a dark and urgent mass of shuffling synth lines and clarinet whoops amidst the muttered and unintelligable fragments of voice smeared into the digital abyss.
As infectious as the opener’s density is, my absolute favourite piece is followup “Eyes Give In”; self-confessed as being a piece about getting lost inside one’s own head whilst coming to terms with understanding the need for a certain distance, it broils with disorientation right from the disharmonious off, whirling in a mass of fragmented and chopped vocal lines caught in a meaty mush of pounding synth and rushing bass. “You’ll see me again”, it repeats endlessly, “I’m not falling away” she says; little reassurances replayed endlessly, not understanding. It’s astonishingly good, intimate yet groovy; I can’t stop listening. “Quiet Day”, on the other hand, seems to actually relish this downtime a little bit, subtracting out the melodic powerhouses of the previous tracks to be replaced with a heady, dark, bassy void filled with some of the same mysterious vocal content we heard out of “Another Tomorrow”, for example. The delicate and enigmatic vocals we hear out of Caitlin Sherman are again supplemented and repeated by Jeff himself, murmuring and strengthening those assurances as he sits in quiet and lonely contemplation, feeling the weight of the absence.
Closer “Forks” rounds out this short but tumultuous 20 minute affair with insatiable slow grooves, the pacing and tempo crushed as Jeff spins big, elongate beats out to even more ruinous and chopped vocals. It’s a gritty and thick piece, the synth mean and dark and stifled with paralysing indecision as the vocal lines strobe and flicker through the mix, offshoots of thoughts and conversations, imaginings and what-ifs, dreams and what-could-have-beens. It’s perhaps the weakest of the tracks for me but it still has a powerful and deeply deliberate emotional current that’s wholly smothering.
I recognise that perhaps I’m a little biased, that maybe I have something of a soft-spot in my heart for Lusine and this particular brand of music, but he’s just so incredibly consistent in his output quality; everything is so beautifully produced, every little beat and texture a perfectly and deliberately placed entity, each piece an important part of the emotional story arc. I just love this bombastic and beat-laden facade that he summons up in each of his releases that smothers the insecurity and loneliness, making the best out of a bad situation. A must listen, truly.