Actress - AZD 2xLP
Label: Ninja Tune
Darren Cunningham aka Actress returns with a new album and a new alter-ego - AZD (pronounced 'Azeed'), a chrome-plated journey into a parallel world. An artist who has always preferred to make music than to talk about it (or listen to what anyone else has to say about it), in AZD he has achieved another remarkable landmark, one which is as resistant to interpretation as it is demanding of it. So a few pointers, or possible ways to think about AZD. The album is themed around chrome - both as a reflective surface to see the self in, and as something only surface-deep, the perfect metaphor for the bleakness of life in London. Another way to approach would be through the art of James Hampton and the Ramm:Ell:Zee (who is sampled on "CYN") - both of whom, though of different generations of the African-American slave diaspora, created art through "scavenging stuff from nothing and turning it into absolute majesty." There is also the career-long influence of the Detroit techno pioneers, something which comes over clearer on this album. In the past "rhythms have always been blurred out, now it has more glow." Alternatively, you could write your PhD thesis on Jung's Shadow Theory and AZD: "Lots things come from dreams, some things dug out of the subconscious. Sometimes the unconscious comes into the subconscious, sometimes the conscious mind starts to meld into universal consciousness." If that sounds too taxing then you could always fall back on Star Wars and, in particular, the Death Star: "It has a dark dystopian backdrop, with highly sophisticated technology, but it is fading into the ether, still holding on and emitting a powerful energy. The music remaking the embers, binding them together and pulling them apart again." Alternatively, just listen. That "glow" Cunningham talks about makes this in some ways more immediate than previous Actress releases. Take lead single, "X22RME" (pronounced "Extreme") which willfully plays with varying takes on the tropes of rave/hardcore, fitting together snippets of them into a jigsaw-like three dimensional whole. At the other end of the spectrum is "Faure in Chrome," the result of his collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra, in which he "repatterns" Faure's Requiem into a piece which sounds like the very institution of classical music being encased in electronic ice. In between are gems like "Runner," which crashes early 80s synth-pop up against African chants, or "Falling Rizlas," an alienated music-box ballad. It's a remarkable piece of work, that harks back both to Actress' previous productions and to earlier iterations of the (broadly conceived) "techno" project without being beholden to anything but Cunningham's forward-facing, individual and fractured vision. The simplest you could say about AZD is that it's art - the unique creation of a unique mind. There will be few more distinctive, brilliant or visionary suites of music released in 2017. Call him what you will, this is the year that Darren 'Daz' Cunningham - aka Actress, aka AZD - asserts more clearly than ever before his complete independence.