- Since 2013, Project 13 resident Acre has steadily pumped out the sort of grime/techno hybrids that are prone to destroying dance floors. The labels he's worked with lend a certain pedigree as well, including Visionist's Lost Codes, cult favourite Wisdom Teeth and Pinch's Cold Recordings. So it's fitting that Better Strangers, Acre's first album, found its home on Tectonic. The end result, however, is less club-oriented than might be expected.
From the very beginning of Better Strangers, its saturation is pushed almost distressingly high. I genuinely thought my headphones were broken at first. This level of fuzz is common, if not downright constant, throughout the album. Sometimes it's applied to just a few elements, but often it seems like everything is slathered in it. This can make tracks like the lurching "Automatic Fire" a rather alienating listen, especially when paired "Dek U" and its stuttering snares, or "Jouska," whose percussion is swung so heavily it feels unnatural.
Grime has always worn its love of game soundtracks on its sleeve, with some of the earliest beats rumoured to have been written on PlayStation's Music 2000, and Better Strangers is no different. But where most grime would evoke fast-paced fighting games, Acre leans towards the softer, melancholic tones of RPGs. The lead melody of "Always Crashing" is a prime example—as its 8-bit synth notes descend, I picture a black screen that reads, "GAME OVER." "Tarantula," an unsettled and beatless excursion, further explores the same palette. "Ruby Tiers," one of the LP's most distinctly grime moments, has percussion that wouldn't sound out of place on a chiptune album.
If all this makes you imagine a bleak, monochrome soundscape, a substantial proportion of Better Strangers may come as a shock. Acre frequently applies broad strokes of colour and humour throughout. "Holding Hands" approaches straight-up garage, complete with heavily-processed female vocal samples, but wrapped in the album's distinctive static cling so it feels at home here. "Jouska" features a tropical mallet rhythm that sounds a little like Shackleton at his most playful. The funniest track is "Always Crashing," which, despite its mournful melody, replaces all-too-common gunshot FX with one that sounds lifted from an episode of Looney Tunes. With a relatively small number of building blocks, Acre has built an album that feels varied, showcases a range of emotion and, most importantly, feels whole.
03. Always Crashing
04. Dek U
06. Automatic Fire
07. Don't Talk
08. Holding Hands
11. Ruby Tiers
12. Better Strangers