- For some people, Actress got a little too obtuse with this year's Ghettoville, a relentlessly bleak album that captivated some but alienated others. Xoul is unlikely to change anyone's mind about Darren Cunningham's recent direction, but with a tender central melody, the title track's three parts are slightly more approachable.
Showing off Cunningham's unique gift for building dense and immersive sound-worlds out of the sparest set of elements, the three very different "Xoul" tracks all focus on the same melodic device: an eerie, music box-like chime. On the A1 cut, it's flecked by a persistent electrical hum and stumbles forward shakily, like Cunningham couldn't be bothered to quantize his beat (in other words, it would be perfectly at home on Ghettoville). The peppier "Xoul Dark Chamber" sucks those sounds into a whirlpool, turning the swirl and hiss of backwards hi-hats into a demented rush. "Xoul Particles" is the most delicate of the three, and also the best. It's one of those stunning Actress lullabies where it's hard to decide if the calm is comforting or menacing.
The noisier "Pharoah Moon Rising" is the odd one out. It's like Cunningham built the foundation—growling, distorted low-end—without knowing what he was going to do with the rest. There's something unsettlingly ambiguous about the pinging chords and mournful horns that trade off and overlap, rounding off an EP that only makes 2014 Actress more enigmatic.
A2 Xoul Dark Chamber
B1 Xoul Particles
B2 Pharoah Moon Rising