Lusine: Condensed

In its L'usine form, Lusine (the moniker Jeff McIlwain adopted for his eponymous 1999 Isophlux CD) is French for 'the factory,' an appropriate name choice given the machine-like qualities of his electronic music. It possesses a clean and glossy sheen and, while teeming with intricate textural detailing, still manages to sound tastefully restrained. Condensed collects thirteen pieces released over the past four years on labels like Mental Industries, Tigerbeat6, Zeal, Delikatessen, and Awkward Silence and, even though many tracks were formerly released on vinyl and compilations, the judicious sequencing makes Condensed sound like a natural full-length. The man is certainly prolific, as Condensed marks his fifth album in four years, in addition to numerous 12” and 7” releases.

There's an overriding dance-based dimension to the music, and traces of funk and hip-hop emerge throughout. But McIlwain never surrenders entirely to simple-minded forays into dance genres, but instead navigates a midway point between groove-based tracks and sophisticated compositional structures. Emphasis is typically upon layered beat patterns with subtle traces of melody surfacing through them. Songs that at first sound like mere grooves eventually reveal themselves to be meticulously constructed pieces enriched by numerous electronic layers. A perfect example is “Cascade” which incorporates passages of hip-hop and funk but interlays them with a ghostly, spectral interlude, such that the episodic piece ultimately coheres into a satisfying, full-fledged composition.

Even though McIlwain has cited Amon Tobin and Luke Vibert as influences, many pieces (“Chao,” “Chao (Crunch Rmx),” “Mojave”) suggest a stronger kinship with Autechre; certainly the crunchy funk beat, grinding noises, and digital chatter on “Chao (Crunch Rmx)” evoke signature traits of their classic style. McIlwain explores different moods and styles throughout, and alternates dance-based pieces with ambient sojourns like “In Flight,” a stately overture of chiming gaseous emissions and melancholy themes, and “Vacate,” whose vinyl crackles, hiss expirations, and distant voices punctuate its synth melodies and gentle bass lines. Other tracks, by contrast, are full-out beat workouts, such as the euphoric and frothy “Isa,” the skittering “Rabblerouse,” and the jazz-tinged “Neon.” “Dr. Chinme” and “Lullaby” are further exemplars of classic digital funk, with the former distinguished by its deep bass lines and atmospheric bell chiming, and the latter by the intricate layering of industrial sounds and interweaving synth patterns. The most robust piece, “Rushhour,” accentuates McIlwain's mechanical side with its repetitive machine patterns giving way to a pummeling drum & bass episode.

Admittedly, it's a long recording—arguably too long—at seventy-five minutes. Condensed initially registers as a collection of electronic tracks that are too fixated upon beats at the expense of melodic and compositional development. Subsequent listens do alter that impression slightly for there are melodies (albeit ones that often seem to lurk behind the beats), and there certainly is compositional development as many of the pieces unfold episodically through differing moods. And yet one can't help but conclude that, had McIlwain pursued more fervently the melodic and compositional dimensions of his music, Condensed would impress as deeper and more significant.

October 2003