Passionate modular sounds from the Oakland artist.
Two years ago, Russell E.L. Butler watched as a party at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland burned down. Inside, 36 ravers lost their lives, many of whom were the artist's friends. The tragedy caused Butler to re-evaluate their life. They had always wanted to be a full-time artist, and the jarring change in perspective motivated them to make that jump. The following year, Butler dedicated an EP to their lost friends called I'm Dropping Out Of Life. "The life that I refer to dropping out of," they elaborated, "is a life where dreams are put on hold, where concessions are made in order to just survive." In the period directly after the fire, Butler also recorded most of The Home I'd Build For Myself And All My Friends, their new album on the San Francisco label Left Hand Path.
Butler, who is a black, queer and exiled Bermudian living in Oakland, uses their intersectional identity to drive the creative process. In particular, Butler wants to "decolonize Western experimental dance music" by drawing on Bermudian influences, such as the rhythm-heavy style of Gombey, and using atonal sounds not found on the Western 12-tone scale. Even if you're unaware of this political intent, the aesthetic outcome is striking. The sound quality is tangy and unsettling, full of sharp tones and atypical rhythms that get filtered or pitched on the fly. "These Seeds" is one of the stickiest examples, with layers of spidery melodies, throbbing leads and an acid underbelly. "Garden's Gift" starts out bright and bouncy like Gombey, but then ends up sour and winding.
The Home I'd Build For Myself And All My Friends has some of the most intense and journeying techno tracks Butler's ever done. The most potent ones bare a revealing sense of emotion. The artist said they made these tracks as a way to heal after the Ghost Ship fire, which perhaps explains the album's feelings of anxiety, desperation and, at the end, love. The music feels passionately improvised. Instead of relying on a simple wistful pad, it spirals into flurries of dark and introspective synths. You can feel the fury on "Concrete Block," which brings moody arps to a boil over and over. "No New Neighbors" has a more soulful vibe, but its dusty atmosphere and quivering melodies still sing sweetly of loss. "Cure Water" is one of those tracks that perfectly captures the beauty of dawn. On the album's closer, it's light, after all the darkness, that rings out in the final moments.
Tracklist01. Tuning Fork
03. Flooded Cul De Sac
04. Concrete Block
05. No New Neighbors
06. These Seeds
07. Cure Water
08. Love Unlmtd
09. Garden's Gift
10. The Home I'd Build For Myself And All My Friends