If house music is the digital rhythm of steel structures filling a skyline, Actress is the sound of those same buildings after centuries of abandonment, smoking filling the horizon and the dread of being alone.
After a non-retirement following the solid but exhausting Ghettoville, the new record by Actress is electronica of protraction. Following the sometimes euphonic sound of microhouse, bleep techno, and outsider house, AZD is a skeletal record trading in noise for space and structure for imagination.
Opener “Nimbus” is a plinking intro with digital coins bouncing off the digital piano, echoed in its follow-up and true record opener “Untitled 7”, a track that plays on suspicion that waits too long for the payoff. The song trends similar to “Nimbus” until a pulsing techno beat joins in and the skipping synth notes line up to a grid for some rhythmic pleasure. It works overall but plays on your patience too early. A preferred second track would have its follow-up — “Fantasynth”, a dusty excursion into dark alleys in a futuristic town.
Like the best Actress tracks, the primary descriptor is mysterious. “Fantasynth” gets stuck in repetition with little variation, like a data processing motor. “Blue Window” makes the same play, but lighter, like the icing. When the filters start opening wide at around 3 minutes, it sounds like the window from the title is cracked open and the air current is flying past the microphone.
“CYN” adds a spoken word/hip-hop element to the mix but ultimately pops the dream bubble. It is too close to earth to fit the rest of the record. “X22RME” marches on like a futuristic army, the bass drum so low it’s completely lost in the mix without a hi-fi sound system. Halfway through, the track pauses and folds in on itself, like a carousel spiraling to the center of a grid. “X22” is the kind of space track Radiohead has been dabbling for a decade and a half, but where theirs always play to tenacity, this plays to pertinacity. The talking that finishes echoes later career Burial and bridges perfectly to the next track.
“Runner” is what any Kraftwerk fan hopes their next record could sound like. Bridging the rhythmic obstinacy of their early work but an alien feel more in line with the orientation of this fractured strain of electronic thought. Perhaps “Runner” is exactly the kind of sound Kraftwerk was hoping to pioneer. After a few dogged pseudo-bangers, “Falling Rizlas” is a nice palate cleanser, a sketch illuminated with rhythm and repeats. “Faure in Chrome” is too steeped in its own haze to bring its full impact. Closer "Visa" is the best track on the record, best being measured by its dystopian atmosphere, colored with droid-esque synth ramblings. Culminating with a crooked orchestra that just disappears, the record ends with a question mark.
AZD is a slim, sparse electronica record. For all its high and low frequencies, it leaves much of the human audible range empty, space to imagine. Darren Jordan Cunningham is the full name of Actress, but according to the press release, he is called “DAZ” by friends. Perhaps AZD (pronounced azid) is the reordering of not only his sound but himself. B