HYPER OPAL MANTIS
, February 23rd, 2017 13:43
After the frantic, frenetic emotionality of 2015’s Cory Arcane, Kangding Ray’s sixth album – HYPER OPAL MANTIS – by necessity sounds like a stocktaking and consolidation of his stylistic development to date. The fact that this is his first LP for a label other than Raster-Noton lends credence to this idea, with the critical distance afforded by this new vantage point enabling him a more just evaluation of his previous work. Stroboscopic Artefacts (the label behind the new album) has, of course, been responsible for his EPs since 2012, and so these two labels can be seen as the poles between which the Kangding Ray aesthetic has been shuttling over the course of an eleven-year career.
In some ways, Cory Arcane – with its hormonal, frothing excesses – represents an anomaly in his oeuvre, but it is one which had to occur in order to make room for the new. With HYPER OPAL MANTIS, David Letellier (aka Kangding Ray) is back to his measured, geometric mode, which is not to say that the album lacks energy – far from it – but that energy is more contained, woven into hermetically-sealed structures and stunted spirals. Letellier is known for giving his albums a heavy conceptual bent which often crosses into social (and socio-political) commentary, so it becomes near-impossible to resist the temptation to listen for messages encrypted in his (figuratively) locked grooves.
The press release for the album posits electronic music, with its fabled ethos of love and tolerance, as a site of resistance against the machinations of the Big Bad World™, calling upon us to reconnect with nature, our senses and each other through the media of music and dance. A noble pursuit, no doubt about it, but something about the perpetual “going nowhere” of the circular motifs which permeate the album belie Letellier’s knowledge of the relative futility of this project. Yes – dance music, in theory, has a political charge, but in terms of effecting real change, it is about as useful as circulating an image of little Donald Trump on social media. We must not forget that, even in the hallowed days of early rave, its political outlook was so diffuse that when push came to shove, the only things to which dance culture was actively ideologically opposed were the laws proscribing dance culture.
Having said all this, what electronic music does do is create a space for this realisation to be made. It takes you into a mirage of freedom and togetherness which is far enough away from the Big Bag World for you to be able to judge it as such, but also, and crucially, to recognise the mirage for what it is as well. And perhaps it is this latter issue which Letellier wishes to remind us of on HYPER OPAL MANTIS. The whole album appears to be dramatising the tension (and seemingly very fine line) between action and inaction. In ‘PURPLE PHASE’, one of the stand-out tracks, the sheer wattage of the kick drum (“whopper” is the only word to describe it) is surely a call to arms, a call for change. But it is rendered useless by the indifferent moseying along of the top voice ostinato, which appears to be operating on a separate orbit than the rest of the track. A similar idea governs the second track – ‘LONE PYRAMIDS’ – where the absurd beauty of the melody is pitted against a withering, lacerated bassline.
Maybe what Letellier is trying to say is that action and inaction are not an either-or, but must coexist. Dystopia has to exist in order to be able to make possible the idea of a Utopia, and Utopia is always already out of reach, impossible by definition, but gives us a reason to begin to rework Dystopia in its image. And whether one’s being on the dancefloor is thought of as action or inaction, whatever this mirage produces must be applied in the real world – action in one sphere has to translate to action in the other, otherwise the two spheres will always remain separate. The final track, ‘LANIAKEA’, in full-blown trance mode, pairing euphoria with boundless but focused, directed energy, invites us to do just that.