Review Summary: Boxcutter's latest finds him still playing with the fantastic ideas that have been prevalent throughout his career, but now strangling them with indecision
No matter how far outside the square any artist may travel, there’s generally always something left over in their work that allows us to tie them down to some form of familiarity. How far down it might be buried varies from artist to artist but there’s always some identifiable marker wrapped up in the clockwork, some instantly recognizable motif that we gravitate towards so we can feel that we’re on some kind of level ground when we attempt to attack and dissect something that comes across as being foreign within the artists current placement. Barry Lynn (better known to the world as Boxcutter) is one such artist who chooses to operate outside of that idea, his tunes a maze of unfamiliar twists and turns, their backdrop an ever-shifting mass of bits and bytes constantly being refined and churned out in new directions every time. What started out as a simple abstract approach to the claustrophobic nature of dubstep quickly became a love affair with a more idm complacency tied together with the bright and retro feel of Brainfeeder’s futuristic glitch hop aspirations. He changes styles at the drop of a hat, one moment knee deep in a sea of hazy acid-drenched distortion, the other high up in the clouds conjuring up an electro funk storm to rival the highest peaks of anything left over from the 80’s. His music exists without any clear path in front of it, each track seemingly assembled on the spot. Ideas and various permutations are added and discarded without hesitation; sounds are built up and then leveled without a moments notice, leaving everything feeling like some sort of freejam exercise that just happened to get recorded.
takes this approach one step further, applying these ideas to a much more funk-fueled odyssey. The album’s opening strands smack of live instrumentation with a warped electronic curve to them. Elegant bass chords sing out over the slight percussion, snares are dropped in favor of the pitter-patter of hi-hats, and electronics shimmer and twinkle in the background. Drenched and washed down vocals stab out their place over the smoky backdrop, swinging in and out over the hazy harmonics. Which somehow makes ‘Cold War’ seem a little out of place; a battle ground of wonky bass and hard hitting percussion, it marks an abrupt turn from the chilled out cafe chic vibes heralded from the beginning. Opting instead for a rustic electro background, it sketches out its descending loops over a bubbling mass of high end and hand claps. ‘TV Troubles’ takes it all back though, translating Boxcutter’s usual aesthetics into a groove laden burst of synths that wouldn’t seem out place running over the sandy beaches of Miami, circa 1983. It gives off that kinda groovy Tokimonsta vibe, earnestly trying to pry open the pastel drenched years of their cities and dress them up in more modern frills and accessories.
The title track pines for the same sort of premise, but Boxcutter wisely cranks up the bass for this one, merging ‘TV Troubles’ and ‘The Dissolve’ into a sort of before and after pastiche of old meets new. ‘Moon Pupils’ expands on the Brainfeeder identity crisis but slaps a makeshift garage beat onto it in hopes of some dancefloor appeal. It starts out with a simple and effective beat but fails to capitalize on it, simply seeing out its runtime by merely looping the playful synths and ever so slightly upping the insistence imbedded in the framework. ‘Factory Setting’ suffers a similar fate, losing its place by masking the sinister screeching of the keys in a tumble of percussion and jarring notes that only serve as a deterrent to the jungle like nature of the track. It’s the closer, ‘Ufonik’, that takes full advantage of Lynn’s more sunnier disposition, its lazy pulse a soundtrack for blue waters and white beaches. It slows the album down to a crawl for its last moments, relishing its more calm and blissful nature and taking its time to cross the finish line. The guest vocals come up a treat, relegating the exploding electronics to a more contained state of minimal destruction. It closes the album in a subtle fashion and on a high (albeit restrained) note, but by the end of it all you find yourself asking “was that it?”.
To his credit, Barry Lynn has crafted another violent pairing of funk and grit, but while the sounds themselves remain as gorgeous and delirious as ever, the beats and ideas they find themselves attached to are merely good and nothing more. The Dissolve
lives up to its name by shedding Boxcutter’s more gutter-level roots by lifting him high up into the cosmos, but in the conversion something managed to get itself lost. Lynn has never been one for catchy hooks, rather insanely ferocious beats that tend to burrow their way under your skin. Here he opens the blinds and lets the sun in, but the truth of it is that the idea doesn’t work with Lynn’s more bass heavy tendencies. He finds himself lost more times than not, and he constantly piles more and more onto the foundation in an attempt to find a match. But nothing really sticks all that well, and that’s the biggest problem here. The Dissolve
is too loose, too out of control. It’s unsure of what it wants to sound like and what kind of album it wants to be. There’s no cohesion, no sense of refinement to it. There are some gems on here but overall, it’s nothing more than merely good, but not good enough for our expectations of Boxcutter. To put it bluntly, there are some fantastic ideas here but they’re strangled by indecision.