Review Summary: More of the same.
UK electronic producer Matt Cutler, more widely recognized under his recording alias Lone, has made a career out of reviving old styles with new attitudes. Starting off as a rather unremarkable IDM act doing his best Boards of Canada impression, Lone’s discography has been a mishmash of established (and sometimes very dead) styles reimagined with a modern sheen that at this point has become a foundation for most of his revival efforts. After paying homage to the legendary 808 State and other early techno/house producers on Emerald Fantasy Tricks
, Cutler turned his gaze towards the early 90’s electronic scene, focusing on the dated sounds of the techno/proto-IDM characteristic of acts like Orbital and Black Dog Productions. The result was 2012’s Galaxy Garden
, a polished, modern revival of the whimsical, escapist sounds of the early 90’s UK electronic scene. And while Galaxy Garden
was a relative success, it showcased a marked lack of maturation in Cutler’s sound. Even though Lone has always been a competent producer, most of the music he has produced up to this point sounds like little more than cheap knock-offs of the kinds of sounds he attempts to resurrect. The chilled out, relaxed vibe of most of his records is nice for a few songs, but it’s only so long before listening to pleasant music becomes pleasant background noise. Simply put, it lacks the depth and vitality of the music it takes inspiration from, and because Lone produces music that wears its influences so openly on its sleeves, it more often than not tends to lack any and all staying power.
Unfortunately, Lone’s 6th full-length and his second offering in 2014 (taking into account his contribution to the Bleep 10 compilation released earlier this year) is another tedious, unassuming foray into the world of Matt Cutler’s influences that never quite coalesces into what would constitute a unique, personal style. “I wanted to make an album that had both hip-hop and house beats, but that weren't completely different from each other, that shared the same sort of vibe.” Surprisingly, this is exactly what Reality Testing
ends up sounding like, a mixed bag of house and hip-hop beats washed over by the characteristic inoffensive variations of different synths playing 7th chords that has been a mainstay of Lone’s sound since he started putting out music. Hip-hop has sort of always remained the spiritual heart of most electronic music, especially the kinds of styles Lone is interested in reviving, and after the exercise in instrumental hip-hop that was Ecstasy & Friends
in 2009, it doesn’t seem too farfetched for hip-hop to become a grounding element in Lone’s aesthetic. Tracks like “2 is 8” (the best cut on the album) and “Meeker Warm Energy” are modern day odes to the kind of hip-hop sound that undoubtedly influenced many styles and acts that have since become integral parts of the electronic music world. However, many of these tracks, while containing an altered rhythmic backbone from what was presented on Galaxy Garden
, very nearly reuse sounds and ideas from that album in most of the tracks synth textures and melodic arrangements.
Beneath this glossy outer sheen lies the major problem that pervades all of Lone’s music, and, in essence, the major problem with his newest effort; it is music that is so innocuous and pleasantly inoffensive that it fails to be anything other than face value. Reality Testing
, while remaining much more grounded in its hip-hop influence, isn’t necessarily that far off from the kind of music Cutler has always made. The reused sounds and overreliance on the same compositional and modal techniques that have been mainstays in his aesthetic since the very beginning do nothing more than highlight the fact that there is an obtrusive lack to depth to any of the music contained on the album. It offers nothing more than twelve tracks of agreeable sounds and harmless beats, which is rendered even less effective by the glossy, modern sheen of digital synthesizers and VST’s that do this kind of revival attempt absolutely no favors at all. As far as engaging music that functions as anything other than pleasant background noise, Reality Testing
falls completely flat, and ends up being yet another addition to Lone’s catalogue of music that’s almost impossible to get excited about. Besides the one or two standout tracks that are worth revisiting, Reality Testing
is a timid, harmless exercise in jumbled influence and pleasant sounds that fail to be anything other than mildly amusing.