Review: Hudson Mohawke, Lantern

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With the imperialistic rise of electronic music, we live in a moment where the “producer’s album” has grown increasingly common. A behind-the-booth artist, performer or not, will dutifully compose tracks featuring turns from a parade of collaborators. Timbaland, Mark Ronson, Jamie xx – the list goes on and on. There’s something strangely classical about the idea – a composer who stakes their artistic vision on the cultivation of a singular aesthetic, rather than spotlight performance moments.

Hudson Mohawke, the 29-year-old Scottish producer born Ross Birchard, is the latest electronic music figure to capitalize on the rising trend of the producer’s album. Lantern is his second full-length, but considering his preciptiously heightened profile from collaborations with TNGHT and his benefactor, Kanye West, the album might as well be his true debut statement. In many ways, Lantern epitomizes both the promises and pitfalls of the producer’s album. Over the course of fourteen, brightly lit tracks infusing hip-hop, EDM, and pop, Mohawke demonstrates his versatility while also carving out a specifically attributable sound. The results are occasionally quite compelling and occasionally mediocre, but Mohawke never flags in his energy or charisma. Lantern is a solid party album that demonstrates great potential in the places where it doesn’t already shine.

The album opens with a rush of static and crunching noise, a motif that repeats itself over the next hour. Frequent white noise and ghostly transitions give Lantern the effect that its songs have been beamed in via satellite transmission as Mohawke deejays from some faraway space station. The music and production is very futuristically of-the moment, a collection of stuttering beats, pummelling breakdowns, soulful vocals, and squealing synths.

The best stuff here, for the most part, is the songs that we have already heard. Single “Ryderz” is a delightful, sample-driven piece of anthemic nonsense, warping 70s soul into a thundering electropop number that could sound good in just about any situation. “Scud Books” is equally huge, a bombastic horn and siren hybrid instrumental that doesn’t need vocals to convey its grand scale. Proving that he’s no purely about the drop, Mohawke coaxes a stunning vocal turn from Antony Hegarty on the lilting “Indian Steps,” the most emotionally evocative and beautiful track of the collection.

The collaboration is the lifeblood of the producer’s album, but Lantern’s guest spots are hit-or-miss. The best is the aforementioned Hegarty’s “Indian Steps,” but Miguel’s feature on the otherwise amorphous “Deepspace” is as stratospherically psychedelic as anything else he’s ever recorded. The same goes for Devaeux’s soulful, sultry vocals on the otherwise routine “Warriors.” These passionate performances elevate their surrounding material, but the same can’t be said for a whiny turn by Jhene Aiko on “Resistance” or a nondescript, bored delivery from Irfane on proper opener “Very First Breath.”

In fact, some of Lantern’s best moments occur when Mohawke forsakes his musical compatriots altogether and crafts some enthralling instrumentals. “System” goes full-on EDM with a shimmering prelude to a punishing beat drop. Closer “Brand New World” is an 80s-tastic piece of electropop that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Passion Pit’s most recent effort. “Lil Djembe” calls to mind Mohawke’s TNGHT trap background, crafting a beguiling, windchime stomper that proves one of the record’s tracks most worthy of repetition. Then there’s “Kettles,” whose cinematic scope borrows heavily from M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, but it makes for a captivating interlude nonetheless. Even with all of these stylistic jumps, Mohawke maintains a grip on a characteristically genre-bending, neon beat-heavy sound that holds the whole project together.

Lantern is far from a perfect album, with almost as much filler propping up the standout material, but producer’s albums are typically a mixed bag. Where the album certainly succeeds, though, is in its crafting of a colorful, if a tad overlong, mission statement for a producer still only beginning to approach the extent of his potential. Lantern is a commendable launch point for Hudson Mohawke — one can only wait with excitement to see where his skillful sonic fusion will lead next. 

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