Lusine: A Certain Distance

Until now, I've regarded Lusine's 2004 release Serial Hodgepodge as the pinnacle of his achievements but that position may now need revising with the release of A Certain Distance. It's as meticulously-crafted as the prior work but it takes Jeff McIlwain's sound to a new level, as it not only features the same crisp beatsmithing and meticulous micro-sound design as before but now strengthens it with newfound melodic and vocal dimensions.

It's the latter in particular that separates the new release from previous ones, a move that's announced, if understatedly, in the opening track, “Operation Costs,” when the Seattle-based producer adds his vocodered lines to the track's languorous hip-hop feel and gorgeous chord progression. Though the album's more pronounced vocal focus is alluded to, the effect is more textural when the vocal is embedded within the sound mass. It's in the second track, however, that the vocal impact is most fully felt. During the album's peak moment, “Two Dots,” Vilja Larjosto's crystal-clear vocals ululate like an Indian dervish as McIlwain staggers vocal layers into hypnotic helixes of captivating counterpoint and supports it with propulsive drum brushes and percolating synth patterns. Larjosto's smooth croon returns in “Twilight,” musing philosophically ("What do you know about the ancient? / What do you know about the future?”) over a dreamily dense hip-hop flow. Interestingly, the lush vocal swells in “Twilight” call to mind the singing of Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and, at least in this instance, bring Lusine's sound closer in spirit to School of Seven Bells and Prefuse 73. Emerging from metallic vapours, the subtly funky “Gravity” also finds Lusine assembling a female singer's chopped vocals into hypnotic curlicues.

Admittedly, “Two Dots,” “Twilight,” and “Gravity” are so intoxicating, everything else, though uniformly solid, can't help but suffer slightly by comparison. In the clubby house cut “Crowded Room” and urgently swinging “Thick of It,” the vocoder returns, accompanied by sprinkles of whirr-and-click. Sonically, Lusine's tracks are as detail-packed and texturally rich as ever, as evidenced by the densely layered hip-hop instrumentals “Baffle” and “Tin Hat” and breezy stepper “Every Disguise,” while hints of electro seep into the synth-swollen banger, “Cirrus,” that burns up the tarmac at album's end. All appears definitely good in Lusine's world right now, judging by the locomotive propulsion, melodic glimmers, and summery ambiance that make “Double Vision” feel like a free-spirited convertible cruise through the countryside. Certainly A Certain Distance represents a significant step forward in the ongoing Lusine story.

July 2009