- Each of Matt Cutler's Lone albums has been considerably different from the last, but he's developed such a signature musical vocabulary that it's easy to blur them together. 2010's Emerald Fantasy Tracks first established his retro rave fixation, before 2012's Galaxy Gardens rendered it as dazzling 3D, taking the past way into the future. Reality Testing brought Cutler back to his hip-hop roots in 2014, applying his neon and fibreglass materials to a different set of structures. These albums all existed in the same psychedelic, kaleidoscopic world, but explored different regions of it. Levitate, then, is Cutler's first full-length that doesn't look for untouched land. Instead, the record sharpens his hardcore and jungle tool set, delivering a powerful approximation of his vintage obsessions.
The seed for Levitate was apparently sewn when Cutler fell ill in New York, feverish and stuck in bed with fragments of rave tracks floating around his head. The ordeal snapped him out of a creative rut and was the impetus for the most to-the-point Lone album yet: 34 minutes of crack-shot rave workouts padded by the plush synth work only Cutler can do.
Though it's as polished as anything he's done recently, there's a punkish energy to Levitate. It storms out the gate with "Alpha Wheel," where the breaks don't glide so much as pound holes into the ground. "Backtail Was Heavy" follows with drums that hit with even more brute force, albeit gracefully so—Cutler's latest take on rave music is powerful but palatial, with plenty of space for his sing-songy basslines and curlicues of synth. These more intense sessions are broken up by shorter, beatless interludes that seem slight on first glance but are actually some of Levitate's most pleasurable portions. "The Morning Birds" and "Breeze Out" are comforting breathers and boast Cutler's most ornate sound design, proving that, beneath all the stylized early '90s flashbacks, Lone has his own sound: warmed-over melodies, shivering chords, jazzy flourishes.
Levitate fleshes out that sound with mixed results. "Triple Helix" shows an uncanny dexterity with breaks, while "Sea Of Tranquility" is essentially another calm interlude, only this one slowly works drums into the mix. It's uplifting, like one of LTJ Bukem's classic atmospheric drum & bass tracks. But then there's something like "Vapour Trail," whose title even seems like a parody of a Lone track. It's not bad per se, but its gilded synthesizers and slowed-down chug go down a well-trodden path. It's a wet blanket on an album defined by its ragers.
Levitate is so brief and breezy that even its dips in quality can't detract from an otherwise breakneck listen. (Lone diehards likely won't find much to gripe about in the retreads, either.) So short and concentrated, the album feels like a style exercise rather than a major work, but it nonetheless finds Cutler refining his skills and presenting the best version of his 1992-via-2020 approach yet. In a year marked by increasingly lengthy albums, a blast of pure energy like Levitate is welcome. Like the music that inspired it, it's a wild ride while it lasts—and that's all it needs to be.
01. Alpha Wheel
02. Backtail Was Heavy
03. The Morning Birds
04. Vapour Trail
05. Triple Helix
06. Breeze Out
08. Sea Of Tranquility