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The Gaslamp Killer - Breakthrough

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Artist: The Gaslamp Killer

Album: Breakthrough

Label: Brainfeeder

Review date: Sep. 17, 2012

Los Angeles jockey William Bensussen has been releasing his crate-digging connoisseurship under the name The Gaslamp Killer for a few years, but it’s obvious he’s put in years more of listening before fashioning his own productions. This is his full-length debut, and it’s made of carefully stitched tracks. Were it not for swabs of noise and crispy sirens, some of Breakthrough sounds seamless enough to be unaltered thrift-store oddities.

For instance, "Nissim,” which takes sitar drone strings and a tense melody coming from bouzouki or mandolin. He lets the mysterious acoustic atmosphere build for a while, before lifting it up with jolly bass and maracas. Mixed with less low-end, it could have slipped out of a busted cardboard sleeve featuring a Technicolor bellydancer. "Critic" takes those same ingredients and drags them to a doomy crawl, further away from suburban exotica. Closer to the present, the spy soundtrack "Dead Vets" reduces the mildewed groove to just a faint wiff. Here, the attenuated tone is more obviously the product of samples. We’re clearly hearing a recasting of the past, filtered for now.

At this point, the question is how deep are we talking?. That attenuated tone speaks to a last-gen approach, like DJ Shadow, or Amon Tobin’s jazz combo quilts. A similar coating of metropolitan dread hangs over Gaslamp’s cuts. No matter how spritely the strings, or warmly familiar the soundtrack culls, there’s something anxious in splicing archival recordings, mixing funk with musicians who didn’t know funk was going to exist.

What separates Bensussen’s technique from the immediate past is that he mostly avoids the ironic speak-over samples that were standard before Web 2.0, though when he gives into the temptation, it’s dire. Things have changed since the sample-delic style was at its peak. To wit, the track "Fuck" is a grammatical description of the f-word recited by a space-age radio announcer. It would have seemed like a precious discovery 15 years ago; it’s more suited to a status-update gag these days. Another cut driven by spoken word, this time a grandma (maybe his grandma) looks to draw energy from an old voice in a digtial landscape, but it’s not enough to make it more than filler.

Bensussen isn’t all cut-up. He can go bright and dystopian, with loose Hyperdub beats. He’s also done cuts that feel fully analog, shambling like some sort of indie reggae. But he hasn’t quite established his own personality, beyond the fact that he digs snake-charmer scales. I get the sense that what’s really needed is a sustained collaboration, like Diplo/MIA, to give a sense of purpose to his meanderings. Many of these tracks — indeed some of the most interesting — are more snippets than fully developed destinations. But there are real skills on display here, like the way he pastes guitars into a digital atmosphere without ruining the patina. More often, the transitions are intriguing like a half-built highway overpass: spooky and new, a spectacularly steep fall that’s not ready for you just yet.

By Ben Donnelly

Other Reviews of The Gaslamp Killer

My Troubled Mind / Hell and the Lake of Fire are Waiting for You! / All Killer Finders Keepers 1-20 Mixed By The Gaslamp Killer

Death Gate

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