It takes intense, repeated listens to get into Darren Cunningham’s newest record as Actress, Splazsh. The collection of funky, housey, digitized beats is a staggeringly adept study in the throwback tenets of electronic music, from Detroit house to Germanic synth. Despite being loosely branded as dubstep, the chameleonic producer spirals beyond the label on his sophomore, piecing together some of the most disparate sounds and ideas to create the 14-track epic. And an epic it is; traversing some sonically esoteric territory on its quest to reach a conceptually advanced goal.
To get a sense of what this means, listen to opener “Hubble.” Clocking in at almost nine minutes, the song employs a warming, Jetsons-themed loop dotted with robotic conversation—digitized blips and riffs and chopped-up vocal samples that give it the feel of intercepting some kind of intergalatic transmission. Whether you understand the flips and breaks and tricks or not doesn’t matter because the intricacy and attention to detail is overwhelming. It’s there in the clipped, metallic buoyancy of “Lost,” the chaotic, fairy dust-laced grime of “Wrong Potion,” and the reverberating, vaguely industrial samba of “Get Ohn.” And if you do get lost in Actress’ space shuffle, there are moments of melodic cohesion where you can regroup from the auditory, neurological onslaught. The tuneful bassline of “Maze” makes it one of the more accessible tracks, alongside the fuzzed out, cloyingly cryogenic “Bubble Butts,” which sounds like you’re hearing the party from your armchair two floors below.
Regardless of how the totality of Splazsh sounds to you—whether it’s five tracks and 15 minutes too long, or a perfect hour-or-so long piece of programmed paradise, there’s a lot to respect about Actress’ confidence as a producer. Clearly he’s unafraid to ditch generic guidelines in pursuit of his very own musical identity.