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Boxcutter - The Dissolve

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Artist: Boxcutter

Album: The Dissolve

Label: Planet Mu

Review date: May. 13, 2011

Back in 2006, Northern Irish producer Boxcutter’s debut album, Oneiric, was lumped into the then-nascent dubstep genre, despite the fact that Barry Lynn’s music was only slightly redolent of the atmospheres and stylistic tendencies of that particular strand of U.K. garage. Sure, there was a slight coloration of two-step beats and urbane synth flourishes here and there, but Oneiric (and indeed its follow-up, Glyphic) owed more to Autechre and techno than to the likes of Burial or Kode9.

The Dissolve is another step away from the madding crowd. If that genre was already a tangential element in Lynn’s music, it plays an even smaller role now. No one style of electronic music is given more than a few minutes in the spotlight before new flights of fancy take over.

The cover artwork, with its futuristic and psychedelic imagery, is a good indicator of what lies within, an oddball mixture of retro and modernist explorations. The second track, “Zabriskie Disco,” is evocative of this paradox, both in its title (a reference to counter-culture film Zabriskie Point) and its dancefloor drive. It’s an enrapturing track, one of the standouts on the album; some of the synth bleeps and bloops wouldn’t seem out of place on a Hawkwind jawn, and the fact that Lynn marries them to Bootsy Collins basslines and dance beats is testament to the man’s acumen. It’s also a reminder that, at their best, funk and disco can be truly psychedelic experiences.

This retro-futurism is all over “Cold War (vs Ken & Ryu),” a driving dubstep piece close to the colourful but cold work of Kuedo and Joker. The album’s preceding single, “Allele,” is sparse, dub-inflected and moody, echoing the grainy urbanity and haze of Burial and King Midas Sound (these references to London’s Hyperdub label ironically seem to highlight how removed Boxcutter is from pure dubstep). At times, the album even seems to veer into the sort of crackling nostalgia trips associated with American hypnagogic pop acts, with soft-rock guitar and glistening funk keyboards nestling under some artificially-generated vinyl fuzz. The tracks featuring vocalist Brian Greene could be straight out of early ’90s soft jazz or lounge pop -- not necessarily a good thing in my book.

With such a "kitchen sink" approach, The Dissolve -- much like Actress’s more abstract, but equally varied Splazsh album -- doesn’t always feel like a cohesive statement. But there’s no denying Lynn’s skill at reconciling disparate sounds, even if the brightest moments fail to paper over all the cracks.

By Joseph Burnett

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