Actress - Dummy Corporation (Ninja Tune)

Actress – Dummy Corporation (Ninja Tune)

It is rather fitting that Warp Records announced their reissue of Artificial Intelligence so close to the release of Actress’s latest project, Dummy Corporation.  Like his experimental forefathers featured on Artificial Intelligence, Actress, (Real name Darren Cunningham) creates a type of electronic music that is borne from the hazy floors of the club but is more suited to a cosy room with a pair of headphones.  Cunningham is part of a long line of producers such as Burial, Autechre and Boards of Canada that have replaced blaring, feel good rhythms for more introspective, cerebral experiences.  

Bearing this in mind the single, Dream, of off his new EP was surprising.  It is a relatively straightforward techno track with a pounding bassline and soulful vocal samples.  The sort of sound that would be right at home in a place like Berghain and one that suggested that Cunningham was working towards a more ‘accessible’ sound on his new release.  However, this seemed to be nothing more than a ruse as the rest of the EP retains Cunningham’s trademark subdued feel.  Another surprise the EP holds is the fact that it’s labelled an EP at all.  Not counting the final two songs which are edits of previous tracks, the project clocks in at an LP worthy 40 minutes: the majority of this run time taken up by the nearly 20-minute-long opening piece.    

The song in question, the title track of Dummy Corporation feels more like a soundscape than a song.  Backed by a minimal beat, it features half heard vocals, constant electronic fuzz and interjecting chirps and whistles as it glides along with the feeling of a blacked-out sports car slinking through a cityscape late at night.  The song appears to end before remerging with a new beat but the same chirps and fuzz before finally fading off into a sea of ambiguity.

The next cut, Futur Spher Techno Version has a similar atmosphere with a simplistic beat accentuated by a rippling electronic soundscape and this is where the major weaknesses of the EP begins to show.  While all the tracks are sumptuously produced and present interesting ideas, they are plagued by a lack of direction or progression.  All tracks apart from Dream appear to stagnate and meander until coming to a deflated ending.  To return to the image of the sports car, while cruising around the city can be fun, if you have nowhere to go you eventually just have to go home and that’s what this EP feels like; driving aimlessly until you’re too bored or too tired to keep going.

There is a fine line between repetition and monotony.  When repetition is done well it can create hypnotic experiences that thrive on subtle progression and development, this is something that Cunningham has achieved with great success in the past.  However, on his latest release, he has fallen on the other side of the line creating a selection of tracks that seem to overstay their welcome before they get off the ground which is a shame as his production and ideas are as stellar as always.  


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