I'm a picky eater when it comes to consuming electronica. It can't be too danceable, can't be too noisy, can't be too cheesy. It probably shouldn't have vocals and especially shouldn't have anything resembling diva vocals. That house beat, ugsh ugsh ugsh ugsh, is usually a turnoff. The quieter my electronica is, the more I probably like it. The more "intelligent" it is, the better its odds of making it into heavy rotation. Quite frankly, the closer to ambient it is, the better. There's exceptions to every rule, but nevertheless there you go.
This is a preamble and/or excuse for my mixed feelings about Actress's Splazsh. I'd never heard of Actress (aka London-based DJ Darren Cunningham) until a couple of weeks ago, when I saw that the album had topped the Wire's best of 2010 list. To top such a list I knew Actress had to be abstract enough to be interesting without being so inaccessible as to alienate at least some of the critics voting in the poll. I took a gamble and picked up the record.
That balance between head and hips is about right for describing Actress. Splazsh is basically a dance record, only winnowed down to the most minimal of elements. There are a lot of elements to it that draw on all the things I, personally, don't like about dance music, which keeps me from fully embracing the record; but Cunningham also fucks with these elements in such a way as to remain interesting anyway. "Lost" is probably the best example of this (and also my favorite track on the record). It begins as a kind of minimal house track, but then Cunningham attacks his own rhythm with a cut-up version of the same rhythm—it sounds almost like parasite latching onto its host. The effect is so oddly compelling to me that I'm won over by the whole track, even when it eventually gets going and the vocals become a stronger element—a style of vocals that turn me off nine times out of ten.
So, Splazsh has been kind of an itch and a scratch for me—irritating and compelling, sometimes simultaneously. It attracts me just enough that I've continued to listen to it in spite of the parts that clash with my typical tastes, and for that reason the whole album has grown on me. I like it more today than when I picked it up two weeks ago. Whether I'll think it's a masterpiece or a flash in the pan a few months down the road, I don't know.
- Actress: Lost