The Gaslamp Killer
, October 12th, 2012 11:32
"This is the way the world ends", a child's voice croons during the hidden outro of Gaslamp Killer's long-awaited debut album Breakthrough, and it clearly marks out the album that preceded it as an intentionally apocalyptic affair. It's dark, brooding, and drenched in weighty atmospherics, and sure, it's all of these dread-inducing things that you'd associate with the end times. But more importantly than that, it's also an exuberant, thrilling and joyous slab of giddily inventive noise. The apocalypse need not be a dour event so, like a Ballard protagonist, why not learn to enjoy the divergent possibilities offered by impending doom? Gaslamp Killer certainly seems to have taken the lesson.
Gaslamp Killer, born William Bensussen, has been a prominent figure in the Brainfeeder/LA beat scene for a while now. He co-founded the legendary Low End Theory Club night, where he also serves as a resident DJ, and the unhinged physicality of his live sets has garnered him quite a reputation as a performer. His greatest triumph to date was his production work on Gonajsufi's debut, A Sufi & A Killer, which despite featuring a few Flying Lotus and Mainframe tracks, was very much the Gaslamp's show. In Gonjasufi's cracked mysticism he found the perfect foil to his own warped psychedelia, which feels practically effortless in its blending of hip-hop, acid rock, early Sabbath doom, and non-Western psych rock. It works not due to the perversity of these stylistic juxtapositions, but because Gaslamp Killer is directly keyed in to the thread of slightly paranoid, THC-addled ambience that ties these seemingly very disparate musical sources together.
Besides A Sufi & A Killer and a handful of EPs, he hasn't released a great deal of his own music, so in that sense Breakthrough is more than overdue. Thankfully it largely delivers the sort of brash and jugular-attacking headiness you'd expect. One of the things that first strikes the listener is the abundance of Brainfeeder acolytes with collaborative credits on the album, though thankfully all the different collaborators slot organically into Gaslamp Killer's sound, so it avoids the pitfall of coming off as just another Brainfeeder sampler. Also of note are the more lucid and refined production values, which manage to avoid feeling like a dilution of former grit. Rather, all the inherent rawness has been brought further into focus, to allow it to fully bludgeon you with the required spaced-out force.
Indeed the occasionally blunt use of rambunctious, bowel-shuddering bass is a striking feature on the album. It's refreshing to see a producer refuse to cede ground to the hordes of neon clad American 16 year olds demanding ever bigger "drops" from their adored flash-in-the-pan EDM stars. There's no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater just because that lot are offending tasteful aesthetic sensibilities - not every producer needs to retreat into slight melodious delicacy, as has often seemed to be the case with the fallout from the dubstep implosion, and thankfully Gaslamp Killer hasn't. You'd be hard pressed to find a filthier offering than 'Flange Face', which manages to thoroughly blast the insides of your skull, and all without having to resort to intelligence insulting gimmickry.
Saying that, the musical proceedings are just as impressive when dialed down a few notches, particularly so on the revelatory 'Nisism'. It's a soulful and evocative tribute to Gaslamp's Istanbul-born grandfather, and to top it all off, it's entirely composed with live instrumentation rather than being sample-based. It's a heartfelt breather amidst all the (brilliantly) brain-bursting theatrics, and it might just be the highlight of the album. It clearly showcases Gaslamp's sound as a versatile one, but there are some minor quibbles to be picked out overall. Structurally the flow of the album can feel a tad disjointed - a few too many interesting, but lightly sketched, ideas interrupt the flow of things. As an entire album it doesn't quite match up to the structured cosmic suites of Flying Lotus' best output - though that's admittedly a high bar to reach. As it stands, Breakthrough is an eclectic and challenging record that features more than a few sublime moments of heady bong-haze depth. It seems that the Gaslamp Killer's world won't be going out with a whimper any time soon.