Actress (aka Darren Cunningham) has raised the bar with each release of his own brand of progressive Techno, with his third album ‘R.I.P.’ being my personal favourite.
Actress’s fourth album ‘Ghettoville’ is meant to be the sequel to his 2008 debut album ‘Hazyville’, and apparently the last record Cunningham will produce under his Actress alias. As soon as the opening ‘Forgiven’ emerges, you realise that although Actress’s signature sound is present that this is a deliberately different album to his last three. And i’d never thought i’d say it of an Actress release, but this is a terrible album.
Since i’ve been a fan of his music from his first release, i’ve listened to ‘Ghettoville’ dozens of times because i’m still stunned by such an insipidly dull release. The majority of the album is slow, dreadfully uninspiring, and lacking virtually any imagination. This album should have been called ‘R.I.P.’ because Actress has literally ripped the heart and soul from his music, leaving us with just a corpse. I have nothing against his source of inspiration, but there is nothing musically challenging in ‘Ghettoville’. The majority of tracks are too long and repetitive, polarising the listener with an indifferent and unemotional purpose to the music. Most tracks are painfully slow, but even the pacier tracks like ‘Gaze’, ‘Skyline’ and ‘Rule’ have a lack of inspiration that just baffles me.
Whatever Cunningham’s intentions were hasn’t worked. ‘Ghettoville’ feels like a suicide note, such is the defeatism that pervades this album. I’m still stunned that Actress created an album as bad as this.
only recently became aware of actress,ghettoville is a great piece of music.dark deep unexpected uneasy from start to finish it,s a journey you will have to take several times to really appreciate this.the reviews and stories regarding this final actress album may be true but just enjoy with no preconceptions the talent and music on this record.
Before I tackle the music I've got to mention the title: 'Ghettoville'. I suppose it is designed to conjure certain mental images, like 'Vapor City' or 'Galaxy Garden' but it just sounds like the kind of thing I'd imagine a school kid writing over a sketch he did in art class after playing GTA for weeks on end. But that's just an aside.
Alright, the music. Well, that's what it is: alright. It's okay. It's decent. Overall, fairly unmemorable but it has some good moments. The first half or so reminds me of the massively disappointing 'Spit' by Ron Morelli. Not dancefloor enough to be L.I.E.S brand of lo-fi techno, somewhat like a less noisy 'Colonial Patterns'. Much of the Detroit influence that made 'Splazsh' interesting seems to be lost here, replaced by a more hypnagogic vibe. Thankfully some more variety comes into play in the latter half of the album.
Listening to the 30-second samples I thought this might be a proper quality LP, and pre-release track 'Rap' showed good promise with it's vaporwave-style R&B slow jam stylings, and indeed this is one of the better tracks on the album. 'Gaze' is another standout, with some Floorplan style housy synths, as well as 'Image' with it's fat mosquito synth trills and on point snares. I think these work because they are less 'abstract' or 'ambient' and more akin to actual dance music. However, while there are these refreshing allusions to vaporwave, hip hop, house, even synth-funk, the bulk of the nearly 70 minutes running time is quite subdued, drudgery through hazy, hiss-soaked, vaguely outlined beats. Maybe if the highlights were edited into the standard 40-50 album running time, this would sound less aimless and some of the tunes less like vague sketches rather than complete tracks, or maybe not. I can forgive artists playing it safe or making more 'functional' tracks when they're aiming at the club but this is decidedly home listening fare, and even the 'ambient' label can't rescue unmemorable music. A plus is that the album artwork does somewhat resemble the musics mood.
I'll reiterate that I think it is a decent album. Flawed, amateurish (not to say Darren Cunningham is an amateur as he is clearly a very able and skilled producer), and although there were 2 years in between this and R.I.P, somehow slapdash. I'm sure these are qualities Actress purposefully wanted in there, but they just aren't doing it for me.
Also, Actress seems to have entered the ranks of artists in the world of underground electronic whose every new release gets the hype treatment from certain sections of the music press/blogosphere etc. Alongside other artists like Four Tet, Burial, Daft Punk (maybe too mainstream now), Aphex Twin, Autechre, BoC and possibly just entering this company OPN, James Blake, Flying Lotus and James Ferraro. These are all artists who are perceived to produced some accomplished works over a number of years and therefore a kind of imaginary critical standard is applied to all of their output (whether this has positive or negative effects on listeners' consumption of the music is, of course, entirely subjective and individual). For me, it means I expect these artists to be a cut above newcomers, lesser known (lesser hyped) artists and the mass of free music available on bandcamp, soundcloud etc. (apart from Autechre who I just don't like at all). With 'Ghettoville' I'm not sure Actress does anything to cement this status, and if anything it's less appealing than his previous two albums, particularly 'Splazsh'.