Actress, aka Darren Cunningham, is back with AZD, which press materials describe as "a chrome reflected journey into a parallel world." Musically, it takes listeners through a dystopian dance-floor dream universe, with the shiny but comforting hand from its cover as our guide.
"Nimbus" opens the album with twinkly dewdrops of randomized synth notes. It's a fitting juxtaposition of organic and technological aesthetics, and a theme that ties the album together across a variety of styles. Elsewhere, "Runner" reimagines the Blade Runner soundtrack as minimal techno, while "Falling Rizlas" refreshes one's ear in the second half of the album with beat-less, jazzy keyboard noodling.
Structurally, "Fantasynth" and "Blue Window" seem to unfold like watching plants grow in a slow time-lapse (but they're shiny, robotic plants), and "CYN" uses hip-hop-ish vocal samples to situate a listener in an inverted NYC. "Dancing in the Smoke" feels like you're a ghost in a nightclub, where any visceral thump seems to phase through you —then, towards the track's end, the club collapses in on itself.
"Faure in Chrome," one of the most ear-catching tracks here, sets samples of Faure's "Requiem" against harsh digital noises, like getting unplugged from The Matrix. The "Requiem" is said to be about death and eternal rest, though its use here, on an album about reflection and inversion, suggests return from the afterlife.
After R.I.P. and the implication of the "death" of the Actress alias that accompanied Ghettoville, it might seem that Cunningham's fascination with death has transmuted through to a next life of sorts, or a new plane of existence. While it's fun to speculate, the warmth and dance-floor accessibility of his music indicate that Cunningham wants to bring us along to that next world. (Ninja Tune)