A new approach – with mixed results…

It’s a well-worn trope to describe electronic music producers as “restless”: the nature of the genre is one of infinite possibilities and rapidly changing technology, so it’s unsurprising that desktop musicians feel the need to reinvent themselves. In Lone’s case, though, the constant skin-shedding has been nothing short of dazzling. The Nottingham-raised producer (real name Matt Cutler) has dabbled in instrumental hip-hop, Balearic beat, drum ’n’ bass and Boards Of Canada–esque IDM, somehow managing to integrate these styles with his trademark frenetic handclaps and endlessly compelling synth runs.

Which makes 'Always Inside Your Head' – Cutler’s first full-length in five years – an exception among exceptions. Sure, it’s an embrace of the new: in this case, a combination of breakbeats with ambient synths and vocals that owes more than a small debt to Goldie’s 'Timeless' album, and wears its nostalgia on its sleeve. But it feels equally like an abandonment of the old, creating a lush, would-you-like-to-sample-the-Cabernet atmosphere that occasionally comes at the expense of what made Cutler’s previous releases most interesting.

Opener 'Hidden By Horizons' sums up the approach here. It starts with a gasping intake of breath – announcing Lone’s biggest development for Always, which is the use of vocals courtesy of Morgane Diet – before layering on echoey tension synths, pads and something that sounds suspiciously like panpipes. The beat doesn’t show up until almost two minutes in, and even then it’s truncated, letting its own reverberations fill every other bar before resurfacing.  

In fact, this is an album that’s all about descending and resurfacing, following a loose concept of “birth, death, and our existence in-between” that seems to tug on the mythological imagery of oceanic births and underworld deaths. Don’t look for that concept in the vocals, though. In a sense it’s not really fair to call them vocals at all, as Cutler treats Diet’s contributions in the same way he treats his synths and beats, blending them in and out of the mix so that they’re more of an instrument. He’s cited Cocteau Twins as an influence on this record, which makes perfect sense: as with Elizabeth Fraser’s indecipherable “mouth music”, it’s less important what Diet is singing than how her voice complements and amplifies what’s going on around it.

If we’re supposed to listen to this album as a journey from birth to death, it’s the “in-between” that serves up the most delectable courses. The three-hit KO of 'Mouth Of God', 'Akoya' and 'Tree For Tree' is the highlight of the album: the first track structures a driving, anxious beat around synth polyrhythms and skittering, glitchy rimshots, while the last takes its cue from the progressive house of groups like Leftfield, with echoing metallics and an urgent pulse. It’s not for dancing, and it doesn’t really seem to be for listening, either; if anything, it’s music attuned to the kind of hyperactive decision-making you need when looking for a parking space. Sandwiched in the middle lies a bona fide banger, 'Akoya', which combines all the best bits of its surroundings into the closest Lone’s ever got to a booty anthem. It’s all carried onwards by a rich, horn-like bass, with Diet’s vocals fading in and out of the mix (while singing, appropriately enough, the word “fading” over and over).

But for every hit, there’s a miss – namely the warm, ambient pools of nothingness that slide between the interesting stuff, tracks like 'Echo Paths' and 'Visited By Astronauts' whose titles tell you everything you need to know. Always Inside Your Head is often a frustrating album, peppered with sparks of genius and disappointing dead-ends. Ultimately, though, it’s another example of an artist constantly – restlessly, you might say – developing. Maybe next time he’ll find the perfect sound he’s looking for.

6/10

Words: Tom Kingsley

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