R.I.P: travelogue of scenes of abstract electronic dub dance in a pleasant and cheery Hell

Actress, R.I.P, Honest Jon’s Records, HJRCD60 (2012)

I’ve become very fond of this UK act, headed by one Darren Cunningham, responsible for all the little worlds of jewelled electronic beauty. Each track is a portal to an incredible universe of psychedelic sound gem tones, little science fiction melodies and unusual sinuous rhythms. The best track on this album, the third for Actress, is “Marble Plexus” – this is a delicate crystal of sharp hiss and constant rhythmic whisk with a frail, tentative synth melody over the sifting-sand texture. Yet the whole track sounds quite confident and self-contained with a distinctive swagger and personality. “Uriel’s Black Harp” which follows all too soon after, is another microworld of densely packed tones, fluttering or twisting and turning like an elongated stretch of sonic DNA untangling itself so it can reproduce.

“Shadow from Tartarus” is surprisingly heavy and subterranean with a grinding bass line that might not be out of place on a sludge doom metal album if it were slowed down. “Serpent” is another surprise: quite chirpy with a dancey little rhythm. It’s a nice piece though not one of the better tracks on the CD. “N.E.W” has a dreamy air and pleasant tones but is rather too repetitive for my liking.

Interestingly tracks have titles that suggest a dark direction being taken here, as though Actress were journeying in the underworld and encountering supernatural entities like shadows deep in Tartarus, ravens and serpents and mysterious landmarks such as the Tree of Knowledge. However several tracks are very repetitive so the mood at the beginning hardly changes or develops much; if something begins on a cheery note, the mood usually carries all the way through. The result tends to be a travelogue showing scenes from different parts of some kind of Hell – and a not unpleasant Hell at that. It’s probably not what Cunningham intended for “R.I.P” and I admit I find the earlier half of the album more interesting than the latter half. But if you like intelligently crafted electronic music with dubstep influences that dabbles its toes in abstract experimentalism and are not fussed about what Cunningham might have been trying to do here, then you will adore this recording: it’s worth getting just for “Marble Plexus”.

I think Cunningham is ready to make the kind of really abstract experimental electronic music halfway between one CD I reviewed some years ago, Mauricio Bianchi and Maor Applebaum’s “Environmental Meditations”, featuring long immersive industrial rhythms, and City Surgical’s “Gray Panic”, a dark ambient electronic / industrial recording; probably all he needs is a push into that territory of abstract experimental electronic / noise lite / industrial / ambient sonic swirl.

Contact: Honest Jon’s Records

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