By Tanner Bidish, Staff Writer
[Ninja Tune; 2017]
Key Tracks: “X22RME,” “RUNNER”
In 2014, Actress (a.k.a. Darren Cunningham) left his fans with an ambiguous goodbye in Ghettoville. Three years later, it would seem there is yet more music Cunningham has to offer. The latest from the UK producer and electronic musician sees him taking a refined departure from the dystopian aesthetics of Ghettoville. AZD builds sci-fi soundscapes from clean synth beats and nuanced texture. The record harkens to influence from avant-garde and Afrofuturist stylings, which speak for the versatility of Cunningham’s work. Even with each track riding the wave of a repetitive club beat, AZD has an attractive, bouncing vibe that’ll keep listeners tuned and focused.
The world of AZD is subtly vibrant. The album’s guiding theme is the idea of ‘chrome’; a reflective surface and a parallel world. Each track is equipped with a beat designed for contemplation. The way tracks like “FANTASYTH” outwardly drone, while simultaneously being carved out by detailed variations in the foreground, culminate for a groove that compels focus. It’s music to sit to, walk to, work to.
“X22RME” is the best example; the base of the soundscape is a beat alive with club energy with scratches mixed intermittently. Glitches and high synth tones play over what would be the bridge in traditional song structure to give the track the desired flavor. The conversational sample at the end gives a thematic hint, but without being overwrought with what little language Cunningham sees fit to use.
Danceability is at its best on “RUNNER”. The backing synth line carries a delightful 80s feel, while tuneful blip progression carves out the heart of the track. It’s like a robotic reimagining of an 80s-sneaker commercial. It’s not distorted like a vaporwave derivative but highly polished like an evolution cast in platinum.
Cunningham’s return sees the musician in a good place. He’s continuing to explore his realm of production and influence in interesting ways. This album won’t be for you if repetition weighs heavily on your soul, but if not you’ll be grateful. AZD is geared toward club atmospheres that eliminate the world in a chrome finish.