Friday, 13 January 2012

Review: Actraiser - Art Of Balance

Actaiser Art Of Balance
I've had a sudden realisation: Actraiser might just be one of my favourite producers of the moment, and not just because he's named after a childhood favourite SNES game. I've been aware of him for a while, mainly because he released on DFRNT's Echodub label, who gave away a bunch of excellent free compilations last year. But even though he's already demonstrated his versatility with genre-blurring club bangers like the wildly brilliant Wip3out, I still had him pegged as an atmospheric/ambient dubstep producer. Until I heard this album.

Because this album is barely even dubstep at all. For the most part, it's basically an instrumental hip-hop record, and a gloriously warm and soulfully jazzy one at that. And if there's one genre that really cannot fail, it's instrumental jazzy hip-hop. This is a totally unexpected result from Actraiser - if there was any sign this album was coming, I certainly haven't heard it in his older work - and what's more, this is possibly the finest body of music he's made yet. To switch styles so effortlessly and audaciously is a real achievement. What's more, he varies it up excellently, dipping back into dubstep rhythms and structures later on, whilst still maintaining the characteristic warm sound that defines the album. Track titles like Lounge Lizard and Jazz Club even playfully mock the milquetoast Kenny G-isms that pseudo-jazzy downtempo music so often falls into, while the music itself nimbly sidesteps these pitfalls.

I was so impressed by this album, I immediately went back into his discography to listen to his other recent stuff, to see where this came from. It turns out his latest EP, Odyssey To The West, sounds absolutely nothing like this, either! That EP consists of similarly brilliant but totally different weird proggy-techno-y dancefloor cuts. Actraiser, it seems, can do absolutely anything he wants. How many other producers can produce everything from dubstep to hip-hop to techno and do it this well? Not many, and even fewer who've only been releasing music professionally for a couple of years.

Unlike so many of the other nice-but-forgettable or solid-but-unspectacular albums I've heard in my quest to find the best of 2011, this is an album I immediately want to go back to - I'm already thinking of all the different times and places I want to play it. I listen to so much music I sometimes think I'm becoming bludgeoned by it, burned out, unable to hear the genuinely good stuff anymore. Then I hear a producer like this and I get genuinely excited again, and I remember why I'm constantly searching through the trendster techno and wallpaper blogbient.

Genre: Instrumental hip-hop/jazz-step
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

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