Normally, when you isolate a couple of random tracks from an artist's catalog for the sake of rounding out a mix, it isn't a big deal; and chances are, whoever winds up listening to it could probably identify the artist easily, even without glancing at their mp3 player. In the case of those aforementioned Lone cuts however, listening to them with an unfamiliar ear, and without glancing at your mp3 player, you would likely assume you were listening to two completely different artists.
Cutler's change in direction is jolting in the same way that being strapped into an amusement park ride is jolting. Prior to Emerald Fantasy Tracks, his sound occupied a space in which beats mirrored the hypnotic thump of J. Dilla's cuts and synthesizers created sunny, woozy textures similar to those of Boards of Canada. Cutler incorporated vocal samples into the music that occasionally resulted in a semi-psychedelic effect. On Emerald Fantasy Tracks however, he traded in Dilla's beats for pinball spasms of Roland 808's and the sunny wooziness for chintzy synthesizers, resulting in a dense and colorful album whose sound was indebted to 90's breakbeat-techno.
As if those innovations weren't surprising enough, Cutler has refined and further expanded upon them on Galaxy Garden. Galaxy Garden builds off of its predecessor but this time around, everything is brighter and bolder, more dense and emotional, and even more colorful; in fact, there's a lot more of everything on here. I recently read an interview in which Cutler stated that he wanted everything on Galaxy Garden to be more colorful, no wonder its opening cut is entitled 'New Colour'. Like many of today's young electronic music producers, Cutler took a maximalist approach to his new material and every song is bursting with dense layers and colorful textures.
The danger of maximalism of course, is the temptation to give in to excess, but that's something Cutler steers clear of. Never once do these songs come off as the kind of claustrophobic, mind-numbing cluster-fucks that some producers occasionally drop, the kind which leave you with the impression they piled as many drum machines, synthesizers and effects into a song for the hell of it. Everything on Galaxy Garden serves a purpose; the gauzy synthesizers help to create warm, memorable textures; the barrage of drums create dense layer after dense layer of grooves. Cutler achieves a greater sense of emotional depth much in the same way many of techno's early innovators tugged at heart-strings: With a simple, uncluttered and nearly naive approach.
Listen // 'As a Child (Feat. Machinedrum)'Take for example the multi-part song 'Dream Girl/Sky Surfer'. It builds from layers of breezy synthesizers that shimmer and glisten to the sound of splashing water and pinging, tropical percussion that gives way to a propulsive beat. A party-crew whistle blares in the distance; a woman utters a single word, "together", which serves as a subliminal reminder. As 'Dream Girl' gives way to 'Sky Surfer', the beats are jettisoned, the synthesizers grow brighter, bigger and warmer. When the beat returns, it's several steps slower and feels lethargic, which gives the song even greater emotional impact than its counterpart. It captures that moment when you find yourself reaching for the stars in the middle of a crowded dance-floor full of strangers who have become your friends for a brief moment of shared euphoria. It's the kind of song you create and preserve memories to.
There's a particularly sticky moment on 'Lying in the Reeds' when the beat drops out and the song is dominated by waves of synthesizers that wash over warmly, capturing the kind of transitional feeling you get when you're in the midst of an amazing moment and you realize it: That too, is another song to build and preserve memories to. Given the amount of emotion stuffed into Galaxy Garden's grooves, it never feels too sentimental or too serious; Cutler is having too much fun to allow his music to be weighted down by sappiness.
Two of the album's more fun tracks, ('As a Child' and 'Cthulhu'), are collaborative efforts with American glitch producer Machinedrum. 'As a Child' blends spastic, tribal percussion and a hyperactive beat with late-night, soulful vocals and synthesizers that cascade gently back out to sea. The song opens with a woman stating "See what nature should look like" in a nearly bratty tone that sets the pace. 'Cthulhu', like 'Dream Girl/Sky Surfer' and 'As a Child', utilizes samples of flowing water in the background, as if subtly attempting to draw its listener back to the beach just before dawn.
The beats nudge their way slightly into drum and bass territory and the synthesizers are locked into a repetitive groove. It's the kind of song you reach for to unwind to after getting in as the Sun is creeping up. Almost every song on Galaxy Garden could easily hold its own as a stand-alone 12" single with a couple of b-sides tossed in and at the same time, it's a cohesive listen as an album. Cutler's approach to crate digging the past is modern as it is fresh and that makes Galaxy Garden something uniquely his own, and one of Lone's most captivating releases to date.
Galaxy Garden is out now
Worth listening to...
- Crystal Caverns 1991
- Dream Girl/Sky Surfer
- Lying in the Reeds
- As a Child