I stumbled across Milwaukee producer Lorn’s sophomore album by accident while trailing through the ‘recommended artists’ section on Spotify.
(Side thought: does anyone else already feel nostalgic for myspace’s heyday as one of the stand out ways of searching out new music on the web? Scrolling through bands and artists top friends was an easy, meandering and potentially endless way of discovering all kinds of fuzzy demo uploads, haphazard bedroom-DJ productions and more polished cuts from artists you were sure you should have heard of before by the time you finished listening. Or have I completely sugarcoated it because I was 16 at the time, in a band, and still a starry eyed NME-reading believer in THE POWER OF NEW MUSIC? I guess you can kind of replicate the experience with Bandcamp or Soundcloud – and to a lesser extent Spotify – but none of those seem quite as direct or personal as the experience on myspace was. But I do indeed digress…)
‘Ask The Dust’ marks the first release Lorn – real name Marcos Ortega – has put out for label Ninja Tune, having previously resided over on Brainfeeder. It’s doubtful he would have received any more artistic licence since joining Ninja Tune – not least due to the connections between the two labels – but it’s still hard to miss the sonic leaps in confidence and craftsmanship that are apparent from the first beat of ‘Ask The Dust’. Previous LP, 2010’s ‘Nothing Else’, while crisp, energetic and brimming with ideas, does play back as more generically tied down to the hip hop instrumentals/scratch beat scenes.
That being said, as ‘Ask The Dust’ opener ‘Mercy’ collapses into its rhythm it would be easy to imagine an of-the-moment-rapper like a Danny Brown or an El-P entering the fray to deliver some quirky spitfire bars. But as the beat festers, it’s clear that there’s something murkier - more subterranean – going on here. The beat alone, with it’s thrusting, insisting snares, demands far more attentive ears than were required on ‘Nothing Else’. And by the time the following track ‘Ghosst’ erupts, with its swaying and swirling bass lines, the notion of any need for an MC accompaniment has been cast to one side.
I’ve been listening to, and generally pursuing, more American rap than I ever have done recently. Part of the reason for this is it seems slightly difficult to ignore at the moment - and it we may just be in the midst of a minor golden age for hip-hop. And this is by no means only focused on the MCs and rappers. The notion, and appreciation, of the ‘instrumental’ feels really relevant at the moment: spurred on by the truly outstanding (and to my ears really quite beautiful) work of producers like Clams Casino (or just some of the straight up ridiculous production work by G.O.O.D Music’s Hit-Boy). But Lorn’s sound – coated in menace – in many ways transcends the charting of these trends, with its uncompromising desire to endlessly evolve and experiment. Lorn seems to sit on the fringes, and it appears that he rather likes it that way.
Some may sluggishly suggest that what he’s producing here is dubstep. That’s bound to be wide of the mark, although Lorn has spoken of the similarities between the emergence of the US scratch scene and the UK dubstep scene in the early noughties, mostly uniting the genres through experimentation in the 140 BPM range. Indeed to my ears, the metallic thrust of cuts like ‘Weigh Me Down’ and ‘Dead Dogs’ call to mind the ominous mood of South Londoners Vex’d on 2005’s ‘Degenerate’ LP. Although that is not to suggest that Lorn is any way lazily imitating: the explosive ‘Weigh Me Down’, with its Marilyn Manson-esque vocals in the verses, straddles the worlds of metal and electronica (a cocktail of genres that I think is rarely carried out as successfully as it could be) in an ominous and refreshingly original manner. Perhaps put in less convoluted language, it just sounds plain nasty – for all the right reasons.
Course if this is dubstep in 2012, I’ll take it over Knife Party every time. If you best like your beats harrowing and haunting, your frequencies dark and dingy – it may not get much better than this in 2012. Preferably experienced in total, all-encompassing, and unforgiving darkness.