- In the last few years, Louis Carnell's opaque dance music has started to open up. His debut album, 2015's mind-melting Safe, was his most emotional work, where synths quivered and basslines trembled with a human feel. On Value, he seems even more vulnerable—Carnell poses nude on the sleeve and in the accompanying booklet. The photos dovetail with the LP's theme: an interrogation of the self, and the twin poles of confidence and insecurity that define it. But the contrast drawn between masculinity and fragility can feel clumsy. The album loses itself in abstraction at some points and struggles to rise above cliché in others.
Value's most noticeable element is its delicate piano work, like on "Homme," a song inspired by the experience of being a man. Distorted beats duel with elegant melodies, an obvious but powerful juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability. It's a combination, however, that Value uses too frequently. "Your Approval" is the only other track that openly deals with the album's theme, and it's also the only song with lyrics. While the words frankly convey self-doubt—"Blue sky but the winds try to drown me / and they tell me I'm not worthy"—the delivery is melodramatic. Value's other vocals are Carnell's, but you'd never know. They sound the same as the vocal samples he's used in the past; whatever seismic shift they're meant to indicate barely registers. When the squeaky vocals emerge on "Self-," not much seems to have changed.
In fact, Value could use more words. It feels like a Rorschach test that only Carnell can decipher, which lessens the impact of its personal content. Genuinely tender moments, such as on "Made In Hope," are few and far between. Where Carnell once performed dance floor alchemy with bits and pieces of other genres, on Value he settles on an experimental club template that peers like Rabit, Angel-Ho and Fatima Al Qadiri have picked over more successfully. The album's mix of chipmunk samples, sound shards and tender melodies sounds contemporary, but it fails to bring out the ingenuity and energy of Carnell's best music. On Value, he bares his soul, but we don't learn much.
02. New Obsession
05. Your Approval
06. No Idols
07. Made In Hope
08. High Life