Matt Cutler, more commonly known as electro-maximalist Lone, is the master of (to use a phrase) stuffing ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag. Except, instead of shit, it is gold: pure, audible gold. His 2012 album ‘Galaxy Garden’ was a massive hit with damn near everybody (myself included) and since then I have strived to work my way through his back catalogue whilst keeping on top of anything new he might be cooking up. Since ‘Galaxy Garden’, Mr. Cutler has indeed been a busy chef: ‘Reality Testing’ took two years to prepare before 2015 saw a re-issue of Lone’s delicious debut ‘Lemurian’ and now, one year on, we have a fresh course plated up, ready to be devoured.
With nine tracks clocking in at just over half an hour, one might expect ‘Levitate’ to be lacking Lone’s characteristically meticulous, tetris-block approach to cultivating slices of aural pleasure. If so, one would then have to reach for the nearest tea-towel to wipe copious amounts of egg from one’s face.
The album explodes out of the block with ‘Alpha Wheel’ with a simple-yet-hideously infectious synth melody before the Squarepusher-esque drum beat kicks in; oh, that drum beat! Loose, splashy hi-hat that could almost pass for a tambourine drives the song from the get-go, interspersed with frenetic, tight snare hits and a shallow bass drum sound. This sound is integral to ‘Alpha Wheel’ (and ‘Levitate’ at large) sounding of a bygone golden age and, yet, still immensely relevant at the same time.
‘Backtail Was Heavy’ carries the urgency with a similar breakbeat-driven backbone; urgency, however, that doesn’t have an end goal in sight. There is no huge build, no cataclysmic crescendo, and no sense of closure to these songs. They all stand as a brilliant nod to a time when rave and jungle reigned supreme, when an artist’s intention was to squeeze as much into a song as possible with one primary aim: fun. That cannot be understated – these songs are catchy and fun as all hell.
There are, however, moments when the tempo is reeled in. ‘The Morning Birds’ and ‘Breeze Out’ allow the listener to catch breath, yet they are so much more than that. ‘Breeze Out’, in particular, showcases a Boards of Canada ambience meeting the shimmering swathes of sound that Emeralds were so good at.
‘Vapour Trail’ follows perfectly with a continuous straight drumbeat which has been dialled back ever-so-slightly – the breakbeats are not so frenzied and a laid-back vocal sample falls into the mix to create a (relatively) chilled-out number which is still eminently danceable.
This album really demonstrates Cutler’s genius when it comes to making music. ‘Levitate’, as an album, harks back to yesteryears more starkly than his last three releases. The production is harsher than the luscious sound of ‘Galaxy Garden’, a deliberate tactic which lends to the old-school sound brilliantly. What’s more, this is definitely a Lone album; you can just hear it. Certain sounds are strikingly similar to previous releases (2010’s ‘Emerald Fantasy Tracks’ in particular), be it the use of the same synth pads or just Cutler’s innate ability to pile so many elements together to create something brilliant.
‘Hiraeth’, as an album closer, mirrors the up-and-down of a night one might have listening to these songs. It’s a beautiful piece, an undulating ambient number which ebbs and flows as almost angelic, choral sounds drift out deep from within the constant synth. It isn’t quite as cacophonously ‘wall of noise’ as Belong, but it isn’t far off; as opposed to being buried in textured sound, the splendour is audible instantly.
The brilliance of electronic music is that the likes of Lone and Gold Panda can release albums at the same time, which share the same musical inspiration, yet come out with wildly different results. If ‘Good Luck and Do Your Best’ is the laid-back youngster, ‘Levitate’ is the fun-loving, ever-busy older sibling.
In summary, this is a wonderful album. My word, so it is! It has all the landmarks of Lone but showcases his ability to do what he wants and come out with incredible results every time. If ‘Galaxy Garden’ pretty much invented its own genre, ‘Levitate’ is the anomaly that showcases Lone’s influences whilst simultaneously building on them with his own approach. Highly, highly recommended.