- Consequence's Live For Never was one of the first Autonomic salvos in album format, a record of downcast and steamy drum & bass that took influence from ambient, synth music and even adult contemporary. It was alternately chilly and warm, inviting but occluded, and only made a few halfhearted concessions to the dance floor. It was also one of 2009's most endearing slow-burners, the kind of album not many knew about but was cherished by those who did. The same could be said for Cameron McLaren himself, really: since then he's released increasingly difficult and fussy music, culminating in the scatterbrained electro of his They Live project and intricate experiments on ASC's Symbol series. McLaren returns to Exit Records for his second album Test Dream, and true to his recent run it's a record that exists solely on its own terms.
Test Dream is not the kind of dream where elements smudge and smear into a hazy blur: rather, it's the kind of lucid dream that feels permanently distant, just slightly out of reach. Beats flicker and wane rather than pound, and melodies are more likely to skitter away in fleeting dalliances than stick around for a while. Beginning with the almost frustrating "Can't Say"—where those mournful synths try to amalgamate around a stumbling beat that never coheres—the album is a journey through a consciousness that sounds fractured and frazzled, depression disseminated through the decay of dance floor beats.
There's all kinds of references to be made on Test Dream. "Marlo" seems to borrow a melody and a deceptively solemn sunniness from Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92, "Magda Trench" is so unstable that it could be on Raster-Noton or eMego with just a little more angst welded into its circuits and "Of Certainty" highlights the record's unique spatiality with a rich atmosphere that hints at Burial without ever making the journey to wimpy weeper territory. The record does make a brief jaunt into straight-up drum & bass in its final section, but even "Soul Sees Spirit" and especially "Oden"—whose percussion occasionally resembles frantic junglisms—feel like pretend bangers, still tinged with that noxious regret and fog of quiet anxiety that dogs all of McLaren's work.
What we have with Test Dream is an album that actually manages to widen its audience by splitting itself down the middle several times over. Not a drum & bass album, not a dubstep album, not an "IDM" album and not an "ambient" album, Test Dream nevertheless has something for an acolyte of any one of those styles to enjoy, and is attractive enough to foster crossover as well. Sometimes you'll flinch, sometimes you'll swoon, sometimes you'll just be perplexed. Whatever happens, you won't be bored.
01. Can't Say
05. Just Water
06. Magda Trench
08. Soul Sees Spirit
10. Of Uncertainty
11. Untitled Dream
12. Before I Go