Lusine – Arterial (EP, Ghostly International, 2014)


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.

Lusine – Arterial (Ghostly, Single, 2014)

It’s not often that I review singles; mostly that’s due to the nature of Ambient music and the distinct lack of them (although I suppose in a way quite a few Ambient and Drone releases could be considered “singles” purely by track count, but I digress) but also because it’s not hugely often that artists really come out with individual track releases that I find exciting enough to indulge writing on. Lusine’s Jeff McIlwain has a special place in my heart as many of you may know, however, so how could I let something like this slip by?

The title track of an impending 4 track EP due to arrive in August,  it’s a deliciously fresh way to let us know that Jeff’s still alive and keen to produce music. Arterial is his first EP since 2010’s Twilight set of mixes, but unlike that particular release and most of his other EPs also, it appears we’re going to be introduced to wholly new content rather than rehashed album versions, which is great news for annoying fans like me. Showcasing the style he’s been refining under Ghostly’s protective wings for the last 10(!) years, Arterial is a little bit of a mulch, predominantly building on the big builds of recent The Waiting Room but with some interesting twists. Whilst those cute little clarinet fragments and sliding electronic whoops that have become cemented into his trademark still form a big part of the track’s early moments alongside the drum machine, it’s eager to show that this isn’t just another Microhouse one trick pony as it manages a carefully orchestrated build in textural and emotional complexity.

Its core shifts to a mildly more serious focused synth shuffling, the riff doubling down in this slow-burning but surprisingly epic climax, slipping in to the dark expanse of night. The slurred meanderings of chopped vocal nothings and driving MIDI claps fall away in a crackling rift that changes the tone of the piece right as the Sun sinks below the horizon, but once this urgency has passed all of the initial swirling textures circle back into the mix like moths to a flame, some resurgent beauty found in this dark heart.

God I can’t stop listening to this; at the same time it commands this high-volume, meaty aura that’s really thickly groove inducing and all-consuming in its most energised and complex state, but at the same time it’s got this sly and elusive beauty lurking in the shadows behind all these rampant riffs and heady basslines. It’s got a really cathartic and escapist feel that’s both relieved in its freedom but also vaguely concerned at the consequences of its actions; I like that sensation, because it feels like it’s a bastardised reworking of some early, more delicate Lusine work that’s been given this huge boost of digital energy in a very different direction, and it doesn’t quite know how to deal with it.

The EP drops on August 5th and you can preorder the 10″  or digital version from Ghostly International here.

Discodeine – Swimmer (2013)

It’s been a peculiar week where I’ve not felt particularly inspired by anything. Following on from Burial’s surprise EP release has been pretty tough for me and I haven’t consumed anything since that’s really caught me in the same way. Luckily, French House duo Discodeine sort of made their way onto my radar with their sophomore release Swimmer.

I know that in the past I’ve been hesitant to tackle Electronic Dance Music but sometimes it’s just so insatiable and catchy that’s it’s difficult to deny, especially when it comes in a package as meaty yet compact as this 30 minute groover. Opener “Seabox”cruises in on a bed of pattering percussion and thick synth lines, only to be followed up by breathy vocals and faux piano.

“Why eat fresh meat”

He whispers enigmatically, although one of the clearer lines that cut through the mix. It’s a swirling, sub-tropical amalgamation of groovy, simplistic textures and it sets out the structure of the album to follow reasonably well. Follow up “Dry By” strips things back a bit more, paring the instrumentation right back to the synths and making the vocals even more breathy. It’s a rising and falling tide, working up into flurries of excitable sound at the peak of the choruses as the sung aspects come into their own, but keeping things low key and limited when they’re less impassioned. There’s lots of bleary electronic rushes of sunny noise and wiggling synths and it’s all painfully Summery.

It segues beautifully into lead single “Aydin”, which decides not to cruise anymore and set out a definitive and strong rhythm in the drum machines and piercing violin strings and deep, flanged synth basslines. It’s got an inherent darkness but also a grander scope than the preceeding tracks that makes it decidedly more ambitious and empowered, forcing its way against the current. Contrast this against “Dive Wet”, which somehow manages to juxtapose a Microhouse piece against the tumult of electronica we just went through. Once again its spoken word delivery and creeping melodies make for a dark and brooding atmosphere, shuffling along at an almost awkward pace but keeping just enough structure to propel it onward, despite the repetitive lyrics.

Thus largely ends the reign of the vocal lead tracks; much of the rest of this pretty short release is focused on the melodies alone. “Slip Slow” reaffirms the dark intents of “Dive Wet” with its drone currents and syncopated drum flurries amidst a creeping, minimal electronic riff, reflections bobbing and rippling in the wake of some dark ship. Fortunately this streak is interrupted by the relatively more jovial “Hydraa” which finally comes along to shine some light through the lingering dark spell with repetitious, solid beats and fluffy synth riff clouds. The cool “Shades of Cyan” is positively Hawaiian with its crooning guitars and excitable percussion, a bright and shimmering piece that’s as relaxing as it is danceable.

It’s hard to believe this sweet little piece moves into the 4/4, club ready “Liquid Sky” with such ease; it’s such a 90’s throwback track it sounds like I’m listening to the soundtrack of Wip3out or something, especially during the middle with those sawblade whines and the huge reverb and not to mention the female coos and waahs that permeate the multiplicity of textures it tumbles into in its heavy closing moments. The sweet 26 second interlude of “Vox” is an odd decision since it throws a glowing drone into the space between two rather driven tracks, but closer “Plum Blossom” more than makes up for this oversight. Flanging those weird backing synths once again it ties in all the delicious sounds of the album into one space, creating a tropical, Hawaiian vibe whilst also marrying it with somewhat darker and more ominious sounds in the more oppressive beats. It remains largely upbeat though with its fun 303s stuffed into the background and the even livelier drums and cymbals thrust above.

As always I’m pretty terrible when it comes to talking about music like this, but what I can tell you is that it’s fun, cheeky, occasionally propped with limited but compositionally useful vocals and nicely but not cheesily simplistic. It’s got a decent production quality and sometimes repetitive but pretty sweet tropical beats, perfect for these Wintry times.