Sleek and imaginative electro from Lou Karsh's reptilian alter-ego.
Lou Karsh, the Australian producer better known as Reptant, spent the pandemic fleshing out the backstory of his reptilian alter-ego and writing its debut album, Return To Planet X'trapolis. The story behind the album goes something like this: Reptant leaves Earth (where he was studying our "unique analogue technology) for his home planet of X'trapolis, only to discover his homeland under threat from an evil lizard called Reptilius. Reptant is forced to collaborate with the prehistoric Gecko Force to take back his planet. This story manifests itself (as usual with electronic music albums) in the abstract, though there is a narrative flow to the LP far more epic and emotional than what Karsh has released in the past. It's just what you'd hope for from a debut album: something bigger, better and a little bit more serious—or in Reptant's case, more fantastical.
The line about Reptant studying "Earth's unique analogue technology" stuck out to me, because it's a good way to describe Karsh's musical career. Starting out in 2016 with a 303 clone and slowly building from there, his style has blossomed from breakbeat-driven acid to sleek, forward-thinking electro infused with other genres and ideas. As Reptant, he's become a leading light of electro's new wave. Alongside fellow Australians like Roza Terenzi, he makes dance music that sounds like the future as imagined in the '90s: trance-inspired synth leads, sloshy acid basslines and well-oiled breaks. His music has only gotten shinier and slicker over time, which makes Return To Planet X'trapolis a feast for the ears in the same way as other classic dance albums—like, say, Sasha's Airdrawndagger.
You hear it in the slow, gurgling waves of the opener, "Enter Atmosphere." The album increases in intensity as the story develops, with chrome-plated trance ("Planet X'trapolis"), rich, Detroit-inspired melody ("Native Mushrooms"), Drexciya worship ("March Of The Repazoids") and a closing battle sequence that ends with celestial bliss in "Gecko Force." We can take that title to mean that the ancient force is taking back the planet from the Agamid colonial overlords that Reptilius belongs to, ending the record on a high note.
Sure, you have to use your imagination to follow this story in the music, but isn't that fun? I'm a sucker for a good concept, and Karsh's world of warring lizards and reptilian technology is appealing (if relatively surface-level). It would be nothing without the fanciful and rich style of production he's developed over the last few years, especially with the Reptant project (even he admits he takes more care with the Reptant material than tracks released under his own name). Return To Planet X'trapolis succeeds because it combines Karsh's growing production prowess and world-building streak. The record comes off lighthearted as it tells its outlandish story. It's a unique idea for what has become a unique sound.
Without liner notes, Return To Planet X'trapolis is just a good dance music album—it's not a musical, a visual blowout or virtual-reality experience. (This world is almost entirely aural. Karsh refuses to even do any kind of press pictures for his alter ego, and has promised to never wear a lizard mask.) But it's these small, neat thoughts that count, especially right now: if you're a dance music producer—or listener, for that matter—in 2021, what is there to do with other than close your eyes and imagine some far-off scenario? Some might picture dancers; Karsh sees reptile battalions. Whatever goes on behind your eyelids, Return To Planet X'trapolis makes for an evocative soundtrack, and one of the finest records in the electro revival of the last few years.
Tracklist01. Enter Atmosphere
02. Planet X'trapolis
03. Forrest Of Squamata
04. Native Mushrooms
05. The Outcast
06. Temple Of Reptilius
07. March Of The Repazoids
08. Dilapidated Environment
09. Gecko Force