Dummy's album of 2012, writes Ruth Saxelby, is a triumph for the reflective moment in an era obsessed with nextness.
2012: the year that the world was supposed to end. In my entirely untested theory, it’s why we’ve ended up with so many albums of note. While I doubt anyone really thought the world was going to end – though even the scientists took the possibility seriously enough to unpick it – they all pulled their finger out just in case; the faintest whiff of mortality’s bell toll still too strong to be ignored. We’ve had records that reached across continents (LV), reshaped the language of love (Frank Ocean), recontextualised the personal (Laurel Halo, How To Dress Well), mined the digital landscape for fresh meaning (Jam City, Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland) and pulled pop in new directions (Grimes, Kindness, Future). So much to listen to, to take in, yet so little time to savor before the next arrived. For modernity’s obsession with the new has evolved into postmodernity’s infatuation with what’s next. An endlessly refreshing, infinitely distracting and unsettlingly addictive stream of nextness that has had an erosive, reductive effect on the content of music releases purely by presenting them as such.
“There’s so much music now, so much information out there. It’s inevitable that things become blurred.” So South London’s endlessly enigmatic Actress told me in an interview for Dummy back in April, voicing what would become the mantra of 2012. “You always have that feeling of noise, y’know what I mean? Information passing all the time. I’m not even talking about the internet. The pace – it’s almost like a chase.”
Actress sharpens his lifelong fascination with loops and digital decay to mediative perfection, honing intently in on each sound.
Amidst the din – in fact, crouching beneath it like the fetal-like figure that adorns its cover – Actress’s third album ‘R.I.P.’ [Honest Jon’s] was a singular moment of calm; the eye of the storm. It’s an album that by turn trickles soothingly like a stream (Holy Water, Jardin), rumbles like the comforting sway of a homeward-bound train (Uriel’s Black Harp, Shadow From Tartarus) and fizzes like that curer of all consumer excess: soluble aspirin (RIP). On Ascending, and actually throughout the whole of ‘R.I.P.’, Actress sharpens his lifelong fascination with loops and digital decay to mediative perfection, honing intently in on each sound. You can almost hear him turning each one over in his hands, observing its shape, appreciating its existence. Even the more upbeat tracks that are charged with the friction of the dancefloor – Marble Plexus, Caves of Paradise and IWAAD – distill the sensation to something static; reflective. Their purpose is not to incite movement, but to inspire focus. ‘R.I.P.’ is “not for listening as such,” Actress explained; instead this is an album to retreat inside, to find shelter from information’s reign.
What’s more, while 2012’s other major releases concerned themselves with the messiness of life and living, ‘R.I.P’ is an album wholly concerned with its opposite. The markers are clear; the title, of course. Then there are the allusions to the afterlife – archangel Uriel, the underworld of Tartarus – and multiple Garden of Eden references. Raven, the most melodically arresting track on the record, is named for the mythic omen of death; the bird that picks over the carcass and carries the seed of past life to fresh pastures. Though released in spring, ‘R.I.P.’ is an album that makes even more sense in winter, an album that speaks to the silhouettes of sparse branches of trees that have shed their leaves.
‘R.I.P.’ is not an album that characterises 2012 but one that responds to it.
“As far as life is concerned, it’s kind of emotion and then it kind of isn’t,” said Actress back in April. “I certainly think that from an early age I always had this impending feeling of death, that it could just come at any time. To live with that is living on the edge. It takes friends, family, music, people who can make really soulful music, and people who can make really angsty music like punk. That’s why you have music like punk and funk and soul. It’s medicine – that’s what music is.”
It is worth noting that ‘R.I.P.’ is the one album on our list that eschews any semblance of pop structure (even the ambiguity-loving Dean & Inga dipped their toe in with Track 2 on ‘Black Is Beautiful’). While his contemporaries pondered the pop question, Actress – as ever – kept his head down and eyes fixed on creating his own space. ‘R.I.P.’ is not an album that characterises 2012 but one that responds to it; highlighting our perpetually accelerating times by setting its own pace. A pace more aligned with a satisfied present and, ironically, with a sense of life in the moment rather than any rush to a mortal finish line.
The avant-garde producer with a revered track record of making new shapes from the shadows cast from Detroit techno, Actress has proved himself with ‘R.I.P.’ as more in tune with the present than any other this year. ‘R.I.P.’ is medicine, an antidote to the overload and a little peace from the noise.