Second visit to Hazyville, the city of hazy sound, of outlines sketched with almost transparent lines, the place where electronic mist abounds. Here, somewhere between Detroit, the Alpha Centauri star, and the Londoner with good night vision, who not only sees at night, but also lives at night, wandering like a ghost around the empty, poorly-lit streets, music doesn’t have a precise colour. It almost doesn’t have any colour at all, because it is air tinted with fog, somewhere between white and red. It adapts to the moment and its surroundings like a chameleon, and doesn’t have a specific shape either, so it tends to confound the senses. Music here is in perpetual motion, undergoing mutations, varying in appearance and angle: now it has become a living organism that genetically recombines itself. It’s not exactly a virus, because there is very little dub; it’s more like a malleable spirit, something sort of like a ghost. Or better yet, it’s a liquid substance, which can be dammed, but which is impossible to hold in your hands, as it leaks out through each and every one of the chinks that it finds along the way. In Hazyville all of these things can happen, the transmutation of material takes place, the sound is whatever the imagination decides it will be. When Actress put out his first album, “Hazyville” (Werk, 2008), he sounded like a landscape like that: a view of a world somewhere between urban and extraterrestrial, a sound that would rise like buildings of granite and glass, but was also flexible like wood. He moved between the really deep techno of Detroit lo-fi and dubstep without armour, soft, almost plant-like. And it worked out, but not entirely.
Now, Darren J. Cunningham has pulled “Splaszh” out of his hat, and what could not be before is now there in all of its plenitude and perfection. What does “Splaszh” sound like? It doesn’t sound like anything you have on hand right now, although it will remind you of infinite historical sparks, like the first Carl Craig, Moodymann, Burial, and a little of Lukid. Since it is an album that is idiosyncratically English, it has certain echoes of that period, the golden age of Warp and other intelligent techno labels like ART, Clear or GPR, in which techno was interpreted from the islands like a version of the original pattern arriving from Detroit, but without the dirty water and with a certain disfiguration—it was like the contrast between Impressionism and Cubism: the same images, different blurring. And some moments of “Splaszh” remind one of “Azimuth” (94) by Kenny Larkin ( “Bubble Butts And Equations”) for example, although this is not the only debt that Actress has with the old school. Since this is an album that turns on itself and metamorphoses like a Power Ranger or that character from “True Blood” that changes into a dog whenever he wants to, at times he does skeletal deep house ( “Always Human”) or kosmische incision ( “Maze”), even sometimes wonky with a techno-soul texture like Theo Parrish ( “Purple Splazsh”). Every track is an adventure in the subatomic dimension of sound; every change is a surprise, and every surprise is an instant of admiration. It wouldn’t be difficult for this album to leave you with your mouth open: there are sparks of genius all over.
More reasons to raise the tone of the hyperbole? Let’s go back to the beginning, to “Hubble” : it is a techno drowning in a dense liquid; it’s not water, but rather something like mercury, as if Carl Craig –the musician– were covered in a layer of viscous material with an almost unpleasant texture. It sounds like Detroit, without a doubt, but it isn’t a revivalist interpretation of the Motor City legend at any time. “Lost” has a more London air to it, it sounds a bit like Scuba, but Actress gets his sound to be more slippery, like a fugitive running down an alley that we can only see as a shadow on the wall. But “Señorita” is like Murk’s Miami or Blaze’s New Jersey –garage house with a layer of fog and the floor of the club dirty with dust and glasses—at the same time that “Let’s Fly” sounds how Jeff Mills would sound if his loudspeaker got broken and we had to listen to one of his old records in mono. Everything is technique with Actress, he handles machines and software like a virtuoso – it’s impressive how he pushes the delay in “Supreme Cunnilingus,” and masterful how he evolves towards R&B and faces off with Flying Lotus’ “Cosmogramma” with only one song, “The Kettle Men.” He gives an entire lesson on his wide knowledge of the syntax of American techno from an English point of view, locating himself at the same sound coordinates, but moving the axis towards a fine late-night texture, undone, as if it had fractures in key bones. A record like the ones from the good old days, but which sounds like one from now. Some time ago, Cristian Vogel’s hard and fragmented sound was identified as wonky techno. “Splazsh” should be described the same way: it’s as if Martians came and abducted the Detroit sound and did it all over again starting with an irregular geometry, a non-Euclidian one, unknown to us. Every minute is disconcerting, every piece is a lesson in class and intelligence I don’t know if this is an album or a freaking miracle. Javier Blánquez