Review Summary: Capturing the darkness of human nature
It’s the dead of winter and I’m in an airport, cast away to the northern United States. Music selection is vital in this environment, as it’s easily one of the most ideal places to listen to music; being simultaneously a place of atmosphere, wonder, peace, and total chaos. While I’m shuffling through ideas, one strikes me utmost; who better to score my fantastical journey elsewhere than the lonesome dance overlord Actress and his funeral-floor sacrifice Ghettoville. This is particularly exciting, for as of this moment, I haven’t heard Ghettoville, and I will be experiencing it for the first time away from the often coma inducing conditions of a computer chair and laptop. It’s these conditions that can instantly exhaust preliminary listens of an album straight to the unconscious, limping through speakers as drooling background tones in the clutter of the internet and social networking. Just as Actress presents us with his music, this experience is intended to be organic and raw, and as I slip on my over-sized headphones in the airport, I let Ghettoville say the rest.
As I hit play on my digital device the static of a tape player unwinds, a paradox that remains aesthetically in tune throughout Ghettoville. It’s a kind of transporting mechanism that provides us with music filtered through bygone technology that sounds surreal and dreamlike in the wake of our digitally inclined world. Before long this static is buried beneath the trembling, slow-motion funk of ‘Forgiven’, painting a dreary landscape throughout the airport. Suddenly the rapid pace of activity slows and the faces of businessmen and security officers begin to obscure and horrify in the weight of the song’s presence. The rapid pace picks up again on ‘Street Corp’, but becomes fluttered and lost in its helpless disobedience of pattern and rhythm. Here my eyes begin to catch the perplexed faces of the lost searching for their terminals, anxious and overwhelmed expressions as they grip their luggage tightly while walking in circles with their eyes darting in every direction. ‘Corner’ and ‘Rims’ propose a slightly more accessible array of tape buried hand claps and minimal rhythmic oddities, accented by hefty industrial stomps and lethargic acid cycles; ideal for standing against a wall and observing a busy intersection in the inner-city while slightly bopping your head, puffing on a cigarette, and cynically examining the strangeness of life.
These sunken grooves shatter under the density of ‘Contagious’ and its monstrous screwed and chopped leaning bounce, as pitch-dropped vocals tangle within the overdose of drowsy medication, recalling a Hype Williams curated smoke session or a Will Burnett .zip file. When the pills have worn off ‘Birdcage’ rips through with an energetic drum pad exercise, awkwardly stepping its way to the dance floor before being sucked out and into the reflective bass melancholy of ‘Our’, as a distorted voice urges to “slow it down”. ‘Time’ answers the call with a sparse and broken melody under heavy billowing static that (seemingly) attempts to mask repressed memories, while back in the real world I stare out the giant plate glass window hoping my plane will arrive soon, as the hands on the clock move ever so slowly. As time begins to rupture, ‘Towers’ bangs it back with a steady, distorted beat that continues to cycle until its hazy counterpart ‘Gaze’ suggests a coming groove with brief James Brown vocal samples, as the track continues to collect more and more dancey elements until transforming into Ghettoville’s first fully fledged dance track. ‘Skyline’ continues the house vibes, though here its buried, passive, and is drenched in steam jets of noisy exhaust that perfectly score the sounds of activity happening outside the airport walls.
While nearly all of Ghettoville is immersed in dry repetition and slow repeating cycles that can bore, turn off, and reduce listeners to dismissing this as background music, when properly immersed within the confines of the natural world, Ghettoville becomes a completely different experience. The album is a remarkably varied listen that touches everything from the DOOM-esque rhythmic haunt of ‘Image’ to the vinyl digging jumping jacks of ‘Rule’ to the heartbreaking funeral symphony of ‘Grey Over Blue’ all the way to the wonderfully exotic eccojam ‘Rule’, that manages to sound unlike anything Actress has ever constructed. Ghettoville also has something very real to say about the human condition; the sorrowful repetition of days, the exhausting pace of life, and the repressed realities in our lives that we deny to stay comfortable. Actress is quoted in saying, "I approach what I do from a visual perspective, rather than a musical perspective" and that is the very essence of Ghettoville; music composed to capture the natural world. However strange and alienating it can be, Ghettoville is a document of the real world around us, a sonic reality check that is as good or as bad as you choose the world to be.