Available on: Honest Jon’s LP
On Hazyville, Actress’s first album, the Wolverhampton-bred producer drew from his love of Detroit techno, applying its influence to a homeless form of house music, made mostly on headphones in a small flat in Brixton. Compression was high and colour was low, with ghostly, sketched tracks forming and disassembling before you’d had time to take them in.
On Splazsh, his second full-length record, released yesterday on Honest Jon’s and mostly recorded in Actress’s larger house in Norwood, things have changed. But not too much.
Splazsh opens on ‘Hubble’, originally released as a single on the loosely anonymous Thriller label, which involves Actress, Lukid and now Zomby. Like much of Hazyville, ‘Hubble’ is completely monotone, with nods to Actress’s ‘Machine and Voice’ single for NonPlus in its mechanical malevolence; sharp whirs and clicks stifling and flattening human voices.
On ‘Lost’, one of Splazsh’s early stand-outs, Actress subtly takes the track from stunted techno to what sounds like a UK garage anthem treading purgatory; vocals that seem to lust, to long for euphoria drifting in to the mix, always that one agonising step away from rapture. The climax of the track, right on the four minute mark, has to be one of the most memorable moments of Actress’s career, and is testament to ‘Lost’’s masterful build.
‘Always Human’ is even more obviously garage influenced. This is speculation, but Actress recently spoke to The Wire about how his tracks are often studies of older material, and with its sharp snares and ice-cold, cut-up vocals, ‘Always Human’ could be a study of Todd Edwards; his breathless US garage slowed down and twisted to fit Actress’s vision.
‘Purrple Splazsh’ sees the ‘80s funk influences that Actress made obvious across the Thriller 12”s, as well as in his DJ sets, become more pronounced than ever; guitar trickling down the track’s concave walls while Prince-esque vocals squeal in the background.
These tracks represent some of Actress’s poppiest material to date under his own name, as do ‘Senorita’ and ‘Let’s Fly’. Splazsh does see Actress explore his dark side though, on the incredible ‘Maze’, where cold wave synths are penetrated by 8-bit arpeggios, and ‘Wrong Potion’, which almost plays out like a reaction to the recent love of sea-sick synths in UK dance music (think Deadboy, Brackles, Bok Bok’s ‘Citizens Dub’). Whereas the synth lines from those artists lope from side to side, giddily and joyfully, ‘Wrong Potion’ sways like a ship whose crew members are one slip away from death.
As Splazsh reaches its conclusion, it gets weirder. On the surface, ‘Supreme Cunnilingus’, a track Actress memorably described to The Wire as being about computer fellatio (“If you’re so into your computer, it might as well be giving you a blowjob as far as I’m concerned … to me it sounded like what a computer would if it had the ability to actually perform the act”), sounds like a bunch of oven and microwave alarms set to go off around the same time, but there’s something about the track’s subtleties, those glistening, blink-and-you’ll-miss them tones that surround the chaos, that has me frequently coming back.
‘The Kettle Men’ and ‘Casanova’ follow, a pair of tracks that continue ‘Supreme Cunnilingus’’s use of technological sounds to depict a bleak, sometimes suffocating machine world. Closing on these tracks, Splazsh comes full circle, back to the original aesthetic of the Detroit techno that so influences Actress; one obsessed with the future and machines.
I’ve lived in Splazsh since the first promos were sent out, and it seems crude to compare it to Hazyville. Both are unique, and sit alongside each other in the oeuvre of an artist who deserves the wider audience he’ll surely find as a result of this record. Hold a gun to my head though, and I’ll tell you that this is the one that goes down as a classic; an album that soothes and excites as often as it takes you to deeply uncomfortable places.