Very nice album. Possibly not as immediately ear-catching as Galaxy Garden (nor is the artwork as eye-catching) but still a real aural treat.
Most of the early 90's rave/hardcore/Sega Megadrive influences of Galaxy Garden have vanished (or at least are heavily muted) apart from the previously released 'Airglow Fires', moments like the piano chords on 'Aurora Northern Quarter' and a few other, more discrete references, instead replaced by a much mellower, soulful hip hop/RnB/G-funk vibe across the record, closer in fact to his pre-Emerald fantasy Tracks output (only much more polished and idiosyncratic). The synthwork is still as lush as any Lone release with many of the same timbres and effects that appear across all of his output, but the context within which he uses them means things don't sound as glossy or neon as before. Still very rich and full sounding though and the more chilled out tracks mean you can feel truly immersed in the oscillations, which at times are very reminiscent of Boards of Canada. The twinkling arpeggios, glissandoing leads and cosy, liquid pads all create a really warm, comfortable atmosphere. If GG was like a being out in the blistering tropical sun, then RT is like curling up in front of the fireplace. This isn't to say there aren't any hooks or melodies because they are plenty there, in fact it's bursting with memorable riffs and synth lines (the flute riff on '2 is 8' is particularly catchy). So basically, it's stylistically and formally different to previous Lone material but timbrally, texturally, melodically, harmonically, and the overall aesthetics are clearly representative of the Lone moniker.
I'd like to make comparisons between someone who Lone has collaborated with in the past. The difference between Machinedrum's Room(s) and Vapor City are somewhat parallel to Galaxy Garden and Reality Testing. In both cases the earlier LP sounds more fresh and vibrant, whilst the later one smoothes things out, creating a dreamy, floaty album.
Whilst I'm not quite sure it's the best work Lone has produced, it is still a really top class album and will no doubt be one of my favourites of 2014 come the end of the year (at moment it's easily the best LP I've heard this year, comfortably surpassing other great records from Millie & Andrea, Fatima al Qadiri, Todd Terje, Mark McGuire, Martyn and Jokers of the Scene).
After the excellent Galaxy Garden LP which was (to my ears at least) Rave for a new generation with modern twists on old production techniques, as well as a lovely few oddities on his Soundcloud page, I've been really looking forward to Reality Testing's release and it certainly doesn't disappoint....so here we are then finally we have it, track by track breakdown.............
The opener is a wash of lush ambient synth pads with some static/detuned radio thrown in (a little Boards of Canada maybe) and it's a serene scene setter for the rest of the uptempo set that follows......
First track proper track kicks in next - sampled choppy sub Hip Hop beats with again lush Lone trademark synths and percussion - very David Holmes esque this one, reminds me of My Mate Paul off Don't die just yet - particularly the street sound samples (NYC car horn perhaps?) - a couple of minutes in and we get a lovely lead line very reminiscent of summery Funk from way back when - think Roy Ayers having a try out on Herbie Hancock's new Mini Moog synth and you're not far off.......vocal samples/sirens/scratched record textures, turntable stops - it's all here - I love how he manages to make it all sound loose but tight at the very same time.
Meeker Warm Energy continues with the Summer synth loving vibe - lovely laid back beats tripping and trippling over each other - beats a little like those 'made in a minute on NI Maschine' loops guys on You Tube proudly present (Yo!) but then Lone adds layers of sound and production values that totally belie the simplicity of those - more 'synthy wash' lead to take us out
Aurora Northern Quarter is yet more pads heaven to start and then that House piano stab comes in - rather than a standard 4/4 banging beat you might expect to kick in, Lone opts for a slightly subtler off beat sound that's at once familiar yet manages to sound as fresh as a daisy - "close your eyes" commands a distant voice and you might want to - we're off into blissful lead motif backed by choral vocals and pads - absolutely beautiful track a real highlight of this album, with more to come and we're only 13 mins in!
2 is 8 is another Summer (that season again!) vibed Housey/Hip Hop/Electro number replete with schoolyard kids samples, a DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince lead sound (better than that sounds!) and more crackles and retro vinyl feel before we end once again with the track phasing out into Lone's wonderful dreamy pads......................
Airglow Fires is up next and what can I say about this track? It won the honour of being voted the top track of 2013 by Bleep.com and it's fair to say it really did deserve that esteemed accolade. You will know this track so I won't go into detail - it fits well within the rest of the set, a small gripe for me being so familiar with it (played it to death!) and would have liked to have seen a new original track in it's place, but I get why it is here, it is stunning after all!
Coincidences starts with destructing/degrading tape loop crackles and atmospherics before moving swiftly into another great lead line, this time with a slightly minor key, melancholy vibe - over more Lone kick and snare Hip Hop brilliance - again, sounds loose yet you know each and every hit is where it should be - radio interference? Check - then a couple of mins in the tempo picks up and takes us onwards with spoken word vocal sample in that David Holmes style again........
Begin to Begin is the B side of Airglow Fires and if anything surpasses that track in many ways - it has to contain one of the most memorable hooks on display here melody wise - somewhere between a flute and a synth hit, the line followed superbly with sub bass then the most wonderful breakdown into lush chilled pads, waterfalls, choral lines - before we are brought back from this reverie into beats and percussive elements to the fore again - "Am I dreaming, am I awake?" - gorgeous - probably worth the price of admission alone if you've never heard this track before - I just don't want it to end!
Jaded for me is probably the weakest track on the album - more of the same minor key synth then the beats, a nice arpeggiated melody line with reverb drenched echoes bouncing back at you - lovely choir voices filtered right down - what am I saying, weak?! This still surpasses many productions. It's maybe more a grower. It fits in the set and overall vibe, but maybe a minute and half too long....? Who knows!? I'll probably learn to love it too, it's hard not to be seduced...
Vengeance Video is the album's 4/4 banger and is most akin to the Galaxy Garden style - I love his minimal hi hats and again another lovely arpeggio line - before we break into a solo stab (quite Orbital sounding - rave!) which is then backed by a real moving growler of a sub bassline - listen on decent monitors and you'll feel this track. Big room as the kids say these days I believe?! Could see this going down a treat at the right festivals in the warm Summer night air.....
Stuck is up next and it's maybe a chance to catch your breath after the previous stomper - an interlude - spoken word vocal samples, NYC street sounds and honks again - bells, atmosphere............2 and a bit mins........like a sound collage (whatever that means)
Cutched closes the album and starts like1999 LP era Prince (no bad thing!) with a big fat synth line over lovely crisp sounding programmed kick and hats - woodblock percussion, deep bass - kinda off beat again - amazing treated vocal sample filling the soundscape image - arpy lines before back into the beats, almost Drum and Bass (nearly) actually! It's a fine closer with a lovely long fade and you rather want it to stay around
I've given Reality Testing 4 stars - as much as I love them, I could have quite happily seen Airglow and Begin replaced with brand new tracks, but i guess that's just me being selfish and wanting more! Having said that they don't distract from the overall set and are quite magnificent both, so they're always welcome to me!
Reality Testing is a progression from Galaxy Garden - maybe not as immediate but certainly Lone is developing his sound palette, embracing different styles and moving into a hybrid genre of his very own - he's right up there on the cutting edge of modern producers for my money (along with Om Unit, Todd Terje, Jon Hopkins and so many others) - if you want superb modern music par excellence, that can equally be enjoyed alone on headphones or socialising with mates look no further.
Better than galaxy garden. A skippy trippy summer treat. For those who like your irony direct then listen to it in the winter. Lone has dropped the 'A' bomb. I love it. This could be Stevies journey through the secret life of plants if that was any good. Original dope. X
What an album. Lone excels and comes into his own on this one, perfect futurist dance music with a style and voice all of his own. Every track is pure gold. Pump this through your speakers and enjoy the ride.