Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Yin and yang synergy: Actress and Lone at Corsica Studios

First published in The Wire

Actress + Lone
Corsica Studios, London
2 February 2013

Celebrating the fourth birthday of London club night Them in the grubby cavities of Corsica Studios, this is an incongruous double bill on the face of it.

Last spring saw the release of two career defining albums by Darren Cunningham and Matt Cutler, aka Actress and Lone. On RIP Cunningham implemented austerity measures on his palette of stuttering techno and grimy synths to carve out a monochrome meditation inspired by Paradise Lost and the quasi-philosophy of “the music of the spheres” – serious stuff, in other words. Galaxy Garden, in contrast, transcended the Brainfeeder-indebted phunkiness of Cutler's earlier records (including Ecstasy & Friends, released on Cunningham's Werkdiscs label) in a riot of high-velocity euphoria that riffed on the melodic energy of '90s rave.

Playing first, Cutler brings the room to a peak-hour frenzy with a live set built largely from his two releases on the revived R&S Records – the latest album and the playful, uptempo Echolocations EP. Twisting acid squelch and metallic gamelan chimes are stacked atop hollow percussion and blissed out Balearic sighs, building a vision of earthly paradise that harks back to the techno-utopian fantasies of the Castlemorton era. Even the names of his tracks – 'Spirals'; 'Crystal Caverns 1991'; 'Earth's Lungs' – come from a halycon era, and this retro-futurist assemblage aligns Cutler with the digital maximalism of fellow Brit producers Rustie and Hudson Mohawke, whose colossal 'Cbat' he slips in mid-set.

"Vandross, Prince: they're saints to us." Inc. talk No World and stripping the blackness out of R&B

First published by Fact

Nearly two decades of musical training provided Californian duo inc. with a priceless sense of timing.

Armed with matching boyish visages and an acutely of-the-moment take on soft and soulful R&B, brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged found themselves on the sharp end of a trend with the release of their debut album, no world, on 4AD last month. 

But look past their well-timed entry into the divisive-but-blossoming genre of alt-R&B and you’ll find a pair of musicians who’ve been diligently putting in the hours since childhood, joining backing bands for enormo-stars like Pharrell, Elton John and Parliament and touring with personal heroes like Raphael Saadiq, all while barely out of their teens.

When they each tired of being “the only little white kid in the band”, the Ageds reconvened to form Teen Inc. (they soon dropped the inaccurate prefix), taking what they’d learned from the big boys to turn out the 3 EP in 2011, their own paean to funkified R&B and hyper-glossy New Jack Swing.

Nearly two years later, the sound of inc. has matured dramatically. Melancholic yet warm, no world draws on the gloopiest of late night radio slow jams and the glistening post-coital heat of neo-soul (D’Angelo and Maxwell are both revered as demigods by the brothers), while the occasional flutter of double-time trap drums hints at a maelstrom of heartache lurking beneath Andrew’s buttery-smooth voice.

The result is an almost archetypal expression of – yes – alt-R&B, the genre the internet hates to love. But where their peers like How To Dress Well and The Weeknd use vocal gymnastics to lay their hearts bare, inc. keep their cards close to their chest, burying vocals deep in the mix and forging a sound that complements their label’s legacy of misty-eyed dreampop.

The Aged brothers spoke to FACT about feeling like Jimi Hendrix, worshipping Saint Luther Vandross and stripping the blackness out of R&B – read the full interview on Fact.