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Dead Fader: Blood Forest (Robot Elephant Records)

Dead Fader’s aesthetic combines some of the rougher edges of the Brainfeeder camp (Matthewdavid, Flying Lotus) with unusual alien experiments that recall the most leftfield impulses of Actress or even Autechre. It’s an often disorienting combination of downtempo grooves, The off-kilter synths that start the album in the form of “Emclod,” a loose opening amuse-bouche (or amuse-oreilles as the case may be), set the tone well. Blood Forest’s strength is in the loose interconnectivity of its parts, where they often come across as somewhat between tracks and sketches, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s that precise distinction I’d make between Blood Forest and Actress’s most recent album R.I.P., where the latter felt like a rather haphazard collection of ideas that lacked follow-through (less an outright dismissal than just my impression).

Blood Forest feels strangely compelling in its languid shape-shifting and coarse beatmaking. A track like “In Cover” seems to reference the flowery IDM of early Autechre or Boards of Canada, but with an added layer of grit to ground it; by the time it reaches its final act it’s an almost disorienting synth swirl. “Tap” continues that vibe with a more strident and immediate drum pattern that recalls Autechre in their LP5 phase, but without the more academic obtuseness that comparison might otherwise invite. What makes Dead Fader really great to my ears is how restless and rough around the edges most of these tracks are, yet they still often feel fully formed enough to stand alone. Occasionally tracks veer more into brief sketch/interlude territory (“Neet Swim”) but others are ambitious, like the big triumphant swagger of “Dettol” even as its synths feel as though they might topple all over one another. “Lousey”’s confident gait complements its skittering textures and zappy, fat bass quite well before it’s practically swallowed in reverb in its final moments. The title track feels urgent and melancholy and raw, and there’s something compelling about that alone, that it is not merely an excursion in sound, but that it taps into something more evocative than might initially meet the ears. The looseness of Blood Forest is complemented by some wide variety in track lengths, with a downtempo curiosity like “Left-Right” lasting only a couple of minutes up against the more patient shapelessness of “Siege”’s closing sprinkling synth shower (the title of it is almost subversive, given the calm surface of its arrangement). That final comedown of spacious, wandering sound feels not unlike the more serene, distilled opening moments of Autechre’s discography (particularly Confield’s “VI Scoise Poise” or Oversteps’ “r ess”), a nice finishing touch on an album that otherwise tends to fuse both influences and more stream of consciousness sound-making in ways that are often visceral and unpredictable but no less satisfying. Very cool stuff, one of my favorites of 2014 so far.

Listen to the album on the Robot Elephant site (I couldn’t embed the player here)

Buy it: Robot Elephant | Boomkat | Bleep | Amazon | iTunes