- The latest wave of experimental club music is written in the language of machinery: slamming pistons, spring-loaded mechanisms, wheezing hydraulics and the gleam of steel and glass. Virtuous.scr, the debut album from Canadian producer Tristan Douglas (AKA Antwood), takes things a step further. It's a concept album that roughly tells the story of an AI. We hear it come to life, learn new movements and start to feel emotions, all told through the starts and stutters of club music. The concept is illuminating enough to add an extra layer of meaning and loose enough to avoid weighing the music down. It results in one of the most distinctive Planet Mu albums in recent memory.
With some imagination on the part of the listener, Virtuous.scr can tell quite a tale. "A.l.i.c.i.a." starts off tentatively, before the drums lay down the record's foundation: harsh, nearly random percussive outbursts. On "Anthracite" our protagonist rises. The two-part track has a portentous first section—tersely chiming chords, shattering glass—and a more anxious second half, where whirring machinery and panicky drums paint a disorienting picture, like the robot is still learning how to move. "Anthracite" also introduces another basic tenet of Virtuous.scr. Though it uses recognizable dance music tropes, it's hardly dance music—sometimes it doesn't feel musical at all. Rhythms come in sideways and leave just as quickly, while shapes change and moods shift suddenly.
Tracks become more idiosyncratic as the AI evolves over the course of the record. You get knotty, interlocked drum patterns on "Overlay Network" and bouncy rhythms on "Sneakers." Emotion and colour starts to seep in, with trancey stabs on "Spirit Fabric" and wounded melodies on "184.108.40.206." The way Douglas uses these familiar devices for narrative purposes is remarkable, and the emotional thread running through it all keeps his process from feeling stuffy or detached. Even when he uses the most obvious sounds, like the "Ha Dance" stabs on "Prototype HA," it's purely on his terms. That track is constantly morphing, growing more unhinged until it sounds like a nightmarish version of Lotic's Heterocetera.
On "Realization," one of the album's more tender moments, Douglas throws in the saccharine jingle of a Canadian phone company to underline the lullaby-ish feel. The Koodo sample is just part of the depth in Virtuous.scr. On one hand, it's a funny easter egg that should catch the ears of Canadian listeners; on the other, it's a clever example of the album's concept, as if the AI were absorbing emotion and sentimentality through advertisements and corporate media. You can engage with the idea at whatever level you want and it works. Virtuous.scr is enjoyable without imagining a robot coming to life, but with more time, there's a whole world of detail to pore over.
Virtuous.scr exists in a lineage of producers mixing signifiers from different styles into high-octane hybrids, but Douglas's approach is different. Where others scribble between the lines of genre, he stands somewhere else on his own, taking the sounds of dance music without mimicking its form. Much like the AI that takes in bits and pieces of the world around it to learn, Virtuous.scr absorbs fragments of the club music continuum to grow into something complex and unique.
03. Overlay Network
05. Interlude Part II
07. Spirit Fabric
08. Prototype HA
11. Uncanny Valley
12. Yontoo How To Get Rid