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FaltyDL - Hardcourage

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Artist: FaltyDL

Album: Hardcourage

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Jan. 28, 2013

The word on Drew Lustman’s new album is that the tracks were created under the influence of love getting serious, and that he didn’t intend to share at first. It’s easy to take that info and look for hints of light rhythms and downbeat chimes. Despite those downtempo cues, this record is neither soft nor sad. It’s engaged, even turned on, clearer than his past work. The chattery patterns and foggy keyboard washes of U.K. bass remain fundamental to his sound, but he wrings out something that’s steady rather than kinetic, and it’s hardly ever lonesome. If most of the music on Hardcourage doesn’t aim for a crowded dance floor, it’s not coming from a solitary bedroom, either.

There’s more focused production, yes, but measured sensuality was also on display with his last full-length, You Stand Uncertain. So perhaps this record isn’t as revealing as it seems at first. Buoyancy is what Lustman does. While very much a part of the international DJ world, he’s got a feel for R&B that’s less detached than his peers. Hardcourage doesn’t feature the raft of female vocalists that made Uncertain an arty parallel to U.S. chart pop. This time he reaches further back. The low-light keys could come from a midnight Quiet Storm broadcast, and the final track, "Bells," is built around sax samples from the age of pink blazers with big shoulder pads. These tones tempt the retro-kistch gods, but the lapse doesn’t happen.

Part of it is that Lustman has a strong control of melody, even when working with short loops. "Kenny Rolls One" starts and ends with dubstep basics: a puffing snare and seething chords. As it accumulates layers, darkness is pushed aside for an electro-jazz bump, a la Herbie Handcock. This is still clearly the work of one guy — funk emerges from the pileup, rather than players playing off of each other — but he sure gets a liquid flow from sharp edges.

Lustman has been branching out of late. Hardcourage the album was proceeded by a single of the same name, not included here. Goblin techno along the lines of Magda or Raime, and driven by haunted echoes over 4/4 click, it would have spoiled the mood. Unfortunately, that happens anyway on “She Sleeps,” the one track here with vocals. Ed McFarlane of indie-discoers Friendly Fires delivers indie emoting, without compensatory disco boldness. The aim is passion, but the results are squishy — a lot of glowing string sounds, like hammering at a grand piano harp, embellish a melody delivered without charisma. It’s the one bummer on the record.

Overall, FaltyDL is becoming reliably fascinating. He works in a middle ground, neither minimal or elaborate, making strong impressions by getting pushy. That’s what follows seduction.

By Ben Donnelly

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