I find that I’ve personally found it hard to sit down and enjoy an album like I would with a book or a movie. It’s not something I believe is the same, as music can provide an overlying emotion on many aspects of our lives. It’s in our cars, while we walk, while we shop, while we read, and while we talk. The critical attention isn’t given much of a chance, but certain albums require that focus to grasp all ends of a release. Darren J. Cunningham, who goes by the pseudonym Actress is making a mysterious close to his acclaimed project. For the past 6 years, he’s fulfilled full time commitment to the project in order to maximize the minimalist techno he releases.
The follow up and final release is titled Ghettoville, which is an appropriate name for the hazy, dark techno Cunningham is releasing. It’s previous release, R.I.P., was incredible. Sadly, I didn’t give it a chance when it came out, so I’m excited to get my hands onto a new release by the musician. “Forgiven” opens the album with a 7 and a half minute slow, sludgy mess of a beat that barely takes form. Cunningham’s signature style of contrasting the emptiness of minimal techno with a repeating dance floor beat shines bright through the foggy track. I secretly hated it at first, but once I sat down and forced myself into the deep end, I was in a trance.
Most of these tracks are pretty undesirable for many listeners. They’re dreary, depressing, and not the techno you have in mind. I find that a proper sit down would turn off many, and tracks like “Street Corner” or “Time” give a good example why. It’s a brutally extended album that honestly could be shortened to a desirable length for sales, but the Actress project isn’t about that. Cunningham experiments until he wants to delete every track on his Mac book. I think of The Knife’s latest release, Shaking The Habitual, when I want to compare this album. It’s difficult for first time listeners, and it drones for 75 minutes of minimal repeating beats. I’ll also remind you that I found myself loving and hating this album on early listens. It was a grind; it was a dream-come-true; my mind shifted depending on my emotion going in.
It’s a challenging listen, but beautiful tracks like “Gaze” help with the transition. It’s forward thinking intelligent dance track that has a simple beat. It’s fairly basic, but the layering of many different single sounds creates this collage of noise. It breaks down like a typical techno track, reminding me of the Drum & Bass that Underworld release back in the 90’s (with a fairly less bass heavy twist and more diversity). All tracks carry the same sound that you’re outside a night club on a Saturday taking a smoke break. I imagine it’s not the safest location either, as characters weave in and out of the shadows. Slightly intoxicated or high, I can see many accounts of stopping in a 7/11 or scummy corner store to get a drink and a pack of M&M’s. Fluorescent lights burn, and Cunningham covers the fake lighting with a smog that only synthetic drum beats can penetrate. “Skyline” crafts this polarizing theme like an Aronofsky film on drugs.
The entire trip doesn’t last forever, although it feels like it does. Never a bad thing when it’s an enjoyable trip. Ghettoville collapses itself inward, taking apart the techno heard in clubs, and creates a version heard in basements 10 floors below ground. It’s dirty, thin, and cool. The minimalist side of R.I.P. that Actress shown has been thrown out the window, and the follow-up to Hazyville, Actress’ debut back in 2008, has been perfected. Tracks like “Don’t” will be night-time curtain calls, while “Frontline” and “Rule” will be the ones that majority will hear at a get-together, or whatever Actress fans do with their time. I believe anyone can find something to enjoy from this bleak project closer, but everyone can agree this project ended on a timeless creation that is Ghettoville.