- Actress's music has always explored interior worlds. Sure, it evokes space, but it's an inner space. Solid things—genres, rhythms, familiar sounds—are shown at that level of zoom where they become sparse constellations of atoms. With his last LP, Actress, AKA Darren Cunningham, seemed to be suffocating on this interiority. 2014's Ghettoville, we were told, "caught the artist slumped and reclined, devoid of any soul, acutely aware of the simulated prism that required breakout." By ruthlessly downpitching his samples, Cunningham seemed to be scanning for signs of life in the microsphere. Mostly he found static and dead space.
AZD doesn't break out of the "simulated prism." Most of its tracks could've been snuck onto one of Cunningham’s past albums. But it sounds like the producer has found inspiration again. The album is named after a mundane space—Cunningham's studio—and, after the existential questions of Ghettoville, it feels unfussy and workmanlike. Which isn't to do it down: now that he's back to just getting on with it, Cunningham can once again produce mirage-like moments of beauty like nobody else.
The feeling of easy competence is strongest in the first half, where stabler techno tracks sit neatly end-to-end. Some are dark, like the pensive but pumping "FANTASYNTH," others perky, like "RUNNER," or lead track "X22RME," with its steamy midpoint breakdown. Pretty much all of them are vintage Actress in their melodic intrigue, textural richness and hypnotic repetition. The cool momentum is only disrupted by "CYN," an otherworldly electro track shot through with Rammellzee samples.
The album's second half follows this weirder lead. Tracks like "FALLING RIZLAS" are tranquil and near-ambient, but there's often some kind of interference crackling across their burnished surfaces. On "DANCING IN THE SMOKE," unidentifiable samples are tortured and twisted with pitch-shift. "FAURE IN CHROME"—the product of a collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra—pairs mournful strings with modem-like digital squeals. With "VISA," Cunningham seems to be ending on a brighter note, but he goes too far—the track's jaunty arps only compound the sense of unease.
If you're left wondering what it all means, then you're in luck. Ghettoville's elliptical press release led everyone to assume Cunningham was retiring, so this time he's gone for information overload. Inspirations on the album include: Rammellzee, the artist James Hampton, Carl Jung's shadow theory, the Death Star and Blade Runner via a Peckham barber. The juiciest of this pick 'n' mix of themes might be chrome. The LP sleeve shows a gleaming metal hand pressed against a human one. For Cunningham, the material is interesting "both as a reflective surface to see the self in, and as something that carves luminous voids out of any colour." The void and the self: those interior worlds, teeming with life again.
02. Untitled 7
04. Blue Window
08. Falling Rizlas
09. Dancing In The Smoke
10. Faure In Chrome
11. There's An Angel In The Shower