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Actress
Splazsh Angus Finlayson , August 2nd, 2010 12:33

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At the point where the creative watercourse of oft-hailed Dubstep pioneers flows out into the wider musical ocean, there’s a delta. This delta is ever-expanding, ever-widening, with ever more overlapping streams and interconnecting channels (and perhaps even the odd oxbow lake, fluvial accuracy be damned). Commentators on the past couple of years of bass music’s evolution have flagged up this behaviour - a relentless resynthesis and hybridisation which has so far resisted easy classification - as a sign of lightspeed innovation; the scene striding forward at a rare pace.

But in our delta analogy, perhaps the opposite is true; new things are happening, yes, but through an intricate filling-in of cracks and crevices - a largely lateral movement which pulls in new earth, rendering it sodden and gloopy (ripe for scooping around and doing things with), without really forging on into the great beyond. I should say that this isn’t a criticism of the creative outpourings of the last 18 months; rather an observation on the unsustainable nature of bass music’s current practice, as it flirts with mutant strains of garage, house etc. in a constantly multiplying variety of ways. Eventually, a (relatively) singular focus must - and will - emerge from the sump.

This lateral dispersal of energy - the overall appearance of sluggishness concealing microcosms of industrious activity - is somehow the spirit which Splazsh, the second album from Werk Discs bossman Actress, taps into. At times, it surfaces for a boogie (see the brief but flamboyant 'Always Human' or the skeletal 80s-tv-theme-chic of 'Purrple Splazsh'), but for the most part it’s enigmatically restrained and quite daring in its introversion. Through intimate drum-machine workouts, retro-futurist glooptronics and stuttering vocal fragments, Brixton-based Darren Cunningham has created an album which holds up a mirror to the post-dubstep morass; without falling into the trap of arch observation or knowing pastiche.

I should point out, too, that this album is perhaps a contender for best-named of the year; that gloriously onomatopoeic word which is somehow playful but mechanistic, evoking brittle drum machine sounds, taut delays and wet-yet-metallic atmospheres. When I say it to myself I can’t help but do it in the manner of a joyous, vocoded chipmunk. Perhaps that’s just me. Either way, it’s Cunningham’s near-magical ability to do a lot with a little which sets this album apart; even the nine-minute opener, 'Hubble', is far from expansive, preferring to explore the nooks and crannies of a woozy house shuffle with rare thoroughness.

Worth a listen then, this one. A deep listen. Admittedly there are shortcomings: 'Bubble Butts And Equations' and 'Let’s Fly' are the weak spots, the points where a modus operandi has been established (I’d shy away from calling it a formula), but deviation is at a low ebb. And the album, for me, begins to drag after 40 minutes or so, its curious otherness becoming slightly mundane through the sheer constancy of its presence.

But flagging interest is rekindled wholesale by the odd, degraded beauty of 'Supreme Cunnilingus'. Apparently a paean to a producer’s love for his tools, the track imagines the sound of a computer engaged in that most intimate of bedroom acts. And how strangely suitable that is; where his contemporaries fetishise the soundsystems which sustain them, Cunningham replicates this partnership on a smaller scale - from computer screen to headphones to hands and back. And for a bedroom album which draws so heavily on club stylings, Splazsh is an admirable success.

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