Lone’s ‘Galaxy Garden’ was a firm favourite of 2012: few dance albums that year even came close to matching its sheer, coruscating energy. 'Galaxy Garden' was undoubtedly a work of ‘90s rave nostalgia, but whereas Zomby’s ‘ardkore homage ‘Where Were U in ’92?’ was overt in its attitude of not merely being in communication with this UK music of the recent past, but being a direct prophet to its legacy, ‘Galaxy Garden’ took a more studious approach in its backward glance. There wasn’t much referencing the pill-guzzling, sweat-drenched atmospheres that typified hardcore as the ecstasy wore off from the so-called Second Summer Of Love; instead, what dominates is a faultless recreation of the textures and colours that made this music so vital.
With ‘Galaxy Garden’, Matt Cutler displayed a special talent as a referential voice, and it might be tempting to take a rapid listen through his fifth album, ‘Reality Testing’, and conclude that he’s repeated the same trick – this time, by taking Wu-Tang hip hop and the jazz house of Theo Parrish as his muses. But Cutler’s clearly smart enough to know that ‘Galaxy Garden’ was a one-off. In truth, the serene slap and kick of returning single Airglow Fires is kind of a maturing of the energies of the last record: as if the rave kid has grown up a bit, got a job, and started seeking out some soul records to search out the roots of a few of those Amen-esque drum samples.
This is a work still seeped in nostalgia – and yes, much of it fed through the ‘90s boom bap rap that he grew up on. But it’s also a record that takes the slippery divide between dream and reality – and all the mystery and melancholia held in between – as a central theme. Tonnes of dance records are enthralled by ‘70s soul and the legacy of RZA and co., but it’s the neat exploration of (sub)conscious states that give Jaded and the feather-light hi-hats of Vengeance Video their edge.
In an interview with Dummy this week, Cutler referred to how he finds it useful seeing his projects as films, referring to a throwaway tweet of his which suggested ‘Galaxy Garden’ had been set in the Amazon, while this one takes place in New York. With the sun-hit vibes of Meeker Warm Energy in mind, it’s easy to picture ‘Reality Testing’ taking place in the midst of the brown-brick Brooklyn heatwave of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. As the record unfolds, we traverse this dreamt-up version of the city, as found sound-like recordings of urban bustle and playing children sink in and out like passing thoughts, while voices like the one on Begin To Begin ask pertinent questions like, Am I dreaming? Am I awake? The links to New York remain loose, and may actually be at there most overt with a memorable sample of Queens skateboarder/poet Shawn Powers sharing some rhymes about a guy called Espy, on the wistful windchimes of Stuck (doubling as a sentimental nod to Cutler’s skater-boy past). But honing in New York as the imagined setting for an album birthed by lucid dreams makes a lot of sense, as a city that often exists as much in ink, on celluloid, and in sound, than it always has out on the streets.
With all these themes circling, there’s often something highly somnolent about ‘Reality Testing’, and it’s a record to shut off to and get lost in. There also a fairly simple reason why this returning Lone album is another of such high quality, and its one that still puts him in thin company in the dance music world. Cutler is capable of producing dancefloor bombs like Crystal Caverns 1991, but he’s made clear how much more suited he is to working within the confines and focus of blocks of album projects. While producers of the highest order turn in rather forced or workmanlike LPs, ‘Reality Testing’ keeps a tight hold on the world dreamt up during its making – right up to Cutched Under’s bleary-eyed rattle, as it opens its arms to the early morning light.
R&S released 'Reality Testing' on June 16th 2014 (buy).