It’s not a word that might immediately spring to mind when listening to Drew Lustman’s new album as FaltyDL for Ninja Tune, but there’s something resoundingly tough about ‘Hardcourage’. It’s not a muscle-flexing, machismo toughness (you’d have to head back to the jungle breakbeats of 2007’s ‘Beat Lumber’ for that), but rather one that speaks to a fortifying of mind, a maturing of character – and a growing clarity in conviction.
The last FaltyDL album was ‘You Stand Uncertain’, and featured UK vocalists Anneka and Lily Mackenzie in a trio of Funky-infused, off-kilter guest slots. Flash-forward to ‘Hardcourage’, and the only live vocal comes from Friendly Fires’ Ed Macfarlane on She Sleeps. There isn’t anything wrong with pulling in vocalists – the examples from Lustman’s last LP happen to be fine tracks – but it’s intriguing how quickly it can speak to a producer’s competence. Some would here claim inspiration for this from hip-hop’s crew mentality: a process of squeezing in as many collaborators to ruffle your feathers and show off how hyped and in-demand you are. But this can rapidly reveal a lack of belief in your own craft; at worst it betrays a reliance on the creative juices of others to build something tangible across a full-length work. The scarcity of guests on ‘Hardcourage’ speaks to a producer who is possessed with the vision, and belief, to mostly go it alone.
FaltyDL feat. Ed MacFarlane – She Sleeps
It also just so happens that as far as collaborations are concerned, She Sleeps is an absolute beauty. Emerging out of the hefty oscillations of opener Stay I’m Changed, comes an entrancing, swerving synth line. Over an accompanying syncopated drum shuffle, Macfarlane’s falsetto soars serenely, and reveals an instinctive understanding of what Lustman aims to conjure. The whole thing is wrapped in a warm haze that casts the atmospherics for much of what follows: from Uncea’s glimmering rhythms all the way through to Bells – the closer that feels like the aural equivalent of basking in blinding, undiluted sunshine.
The album’s toughness also comes through the hard-edged conviction of its production. Perhaps an inevitable by-product of electronic music becoming something just as likely to be consumed through high-fidelity headphones as when seeping out of hastily assembled bass bins, is that every producer’s technical prowess is more closely scrutinised in 2013 than it ever has been before. A frequent complaint comes when a producer’s sound feels too neat and cleanly assembled: one where you can easily visualise the drum, bass and vocal elements as they would appear in Logic, or a similar piece of music software. Reassimilate plays on such quibbles: over its backdrop of rattling beats, is a sampled snippet of choral music (which, following Grimes’ Nightmusic and James Ferraro’s recent ‘No Regrets’ mix, appears to have become all the rage in certain circles). While easily broken down into its constituent parts, Reassimilate’s simplicity is what makes it succeed. As with the album’s title, Lustman displays more of a penchant for rejigging the English language, as it calls for “re”-assimilation. Raising a need to refresh ideas of cultural understanding, Reassimilate has Lustman’s archaic choral sample weaving understatedly, and rather majestically, over those looped rhythms. In so doing, it becomes one of ‘Hardcourage’s’ most subtle and memorable statements.
FaltyDL – Uncea
FaltyDL has always felt like something of a melting-pot project – one that carefully assembles its sonic ingredients to carve out its own creative space, rather than reaching for innovative new ground. ‘Hardcourage’s’ only real moment where such elements can’t be missed comes on With Karme – whose spitfire hi-hats owe more than a debt to Kuedo’s 2011 album ‘Severant’ – one that Lustman certainly isn’t alone in still mining considerable inspiration from. But for the most part, the album succeeds by charting the growth of an artist no longer wearing his influences – be it classic Chicago house or the UK journey through garage to funky – quite so overtly. Weaving its patchwork more tightly, ‘Hardcourage’ is a confident, and at times quietly courageous effort, bristling with warmth and openness – and one driven along by the matured artistic voice of its creator.