Lusine: Serial Hodgepodge
Ghostly International

I'm not sure if Jeff McIlwain had The Odyssey in mind when composing Serial Hodgepodge's spellbinding opener “Ask You” but its choir of cooing female voices definitely induces a siren-like effect. Even though one is helplessly seduced by this audacious intro, a second highlight moments later tops it. As the voices layer, quiet electronics escalate in volume and number, much as volcanic burblings foreshadow eruption as they reach a slow broil. Sure enough, the explosion occurs in the form of pulverizing beats that slam into place alongside the voices. After this stunning moment, one basks in the beauty of the track's laconic, loping groove, and perhaps pauses to admire the music's enveloping sheen and exquisite detail.

Seattle-based McIlwain brings an extensive background to such marvels of construction. He studied 20th-century electronic music and sound design at Cal Arts before issuing material on labels like Isophlux and Delikatessen. Following upon 2002's Iron City (Hymen/Mad Monkey) and the 2003 Hymen collection Condensed, Serial Hodgepodge is his full-length debut for Detroit's Ghostly imprint (notwithstanding the Ghostly EPs Push and Flat Remixes). It's an impeccably produced work, with pristine production bringing forth the punch of every whomping bass drum and the pinprick precision of beats as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel.

Interestingly, the strongest tracks, the aforesaid opener and “Everything Under The Sun,” show the greatest hip-hop influence, with the latter's slow groove sweetened by snare splats and billowing chords that outline the merest vestige of melody. “The Stop” also impresses, a clever 2-step mutation whose chugging beat is arrested by a funky hiccup; cooing voices appear again but now draped across the sparkling, almost jazz-inflected rhythms. “Falling In” is really the only time a song hews to a straight 4-4 house-inflected beat, even if an intricately constructed one. With its two-note minimal melody, “Figment” is a textbook example of Lusine's talent for configuring machine noise (clanks, whirrs, buzzes) into nuanced beat constructions. While different moods and styles are explored throughout, he wisely modulates the flow by interspersing ambient interludes like “Drip,” a blurry drone of surges and rippling static, and by ending the album with the amoebic drift and steely rustlings of “Payne's Gray.”

Lusine's music defies description to some degree, as it's not solely techno, house, or hip-hop but typically inhabits some intermediary zone where traces of all three seep through. His music also deceptively suggests an absence of melody, but closer listening reveals that the grooves and the perpetually mutating details that cluster around them constitute an understated 'melodic' dimension. Those looking for Serial Hodgepodge's 'message' need look no further than its meticulously sculpted beats and the artistry McIlwain brings to the dance genre.

November 2004