Instead of yet another opening sentence declaring how things seem to be changing so rapidly in electronic music thanks to assorted thriving scenes in and around London, I urge you instead to take a good look at the cover to Darren Cunningham’s sophomore full-length under the Actress alias, Splazsh:
The four black hexagons ripple outward in rigid fashion, the visual equivalent of the album’s title and a hint at what Cunningham is getting at. The thin white letters spelling out “ACTRESS” and “SPLAZSH” on the outer ring suggests he knows he’s just the latest generation of electro artists working away from techno while still retaining many of its characteristics.
Like his 2008 debut Hazyville, the Werk Discs founder delights in snagging lines from Detroit (best exemplified in early highlight “Always Human”). But just as former DJing buddy Kode9 has recently taken dubstep to the tropics, Actress takes Detroit to Berlin (“Hubble”), London (“Casanova”), and Paris (“Purrple Splazsh”). This is just to name a few – the disparate sounds that span these 14 tracks are impressive and consistently surprising, if not always consistent. Even industrial makes an appearance on “Bubble Butts and Equations,” a ruthless bassline overpowering an otherwise buoyant backdrop of tweets and sonar pings.
Unfortunately, the greatest asset to Splazsh also feels like its greatest Achilles heel. The territory this album spans is substantial, but almost impossible to get into without focused, repeated listening. “Hubble” opens up the album strongly with a melodic eight-minute loop, but the pacing is inconsistent from there on out – it gets to a point where you’re downright frustrated with the constant curveballs, and the biggest surprise aside from the music is that this clocks in at barely over an hour; it certainly feels longer. Splazsh suffers nothing for quality, but unlike Hazyville, it just can’t get into a groove.
The complaint begs a rebuttal, so I’ll oblige: This flaw is what makes Splazsh the better album and what makes it stand out even among such forward-thinking contemporaries as Scuba, Flying Lotus, Kode9 and Mount Kimbie (to name just a few). I would not be surprised to see this on a few year-end lists when the time comes, and I’ve written and scrapped and rewritten this review enough to know that whatever criticisms you may try to lob in its direction, Splazsh remains relentlessly intriguing. We are very fortunate to have such a talented artist among us angling for every side of that outer ripple at once.