Splazsh wastes no time on the niceties of introductions, depositing you instead directly in the path of “Hubble,” which reveals itself to be cloaked in night, a techno groove dismantled in clouds of static and hum. It feels faded and old, some Victorian-era machine still rattling out messages to the spirit realm. Like a lot of Actress tracks, its true motives seem obscured by smoke, where voices flicker in the depths, but their message is resigned to memory. In some ways it’s a strange, unforgiving track to open with, this decaying mechanism that slowly overwrites itself until it settles into uneasy silence, but it works as an airlock of sorts, to transition you from one world to the next. “Lost” takes a fractured loop of disintegrating synthesizer and slowly lets another song seep into it, as if it’s bleeding through from some oneiric realm. It’s a common aesthetic theme that runs through the album, this corrupted techno picking up transmissions from other places, melodies being tuned in on some occult radio. It feels like you can zoom in forever on fine-grained sonic details – like when the vocal samples get stretched into some grey, rainy haze before the beat comes in, mechanical limbs perforating the track with holes that blister with noise.
Two tracks in: dazzled and disoriented. By the time I reached the end, I felt like I’d been taken somewhere, walked in some somnambulist shuffle between shadows and specters. The only correct response to a first listen like that was to circle around to the beginning. It only seemed to expand with every listen, revealing new passageways and spaces, a house of secrets growing itself around me. It came to the point where I resigned myself and put the album on repeat, layers of it gradually accreting until I was caught, pinioned at its center, nestled in its dense, throbbing heart.
So what is it that gives this particular album such a hold on me? I could point to the blown-out bass whoomp of “Bubble Butts and Equations,” or the late night tech-soul of “Get Ohn,” like a house anthem repeatedly re-encoded until that gorgeous forlorn melody buckles under the digital haze, breaking the surface among broken steam valves. Then there’s “Maze,” with its cold wave innards exposed on an autopsy table, its beautifully icy synth backbone glowing under fluorescent light. “Purrple Splazsh” takes cues from the flayed 80s fetishism of James Ferraro, the sample that eddies in its cathode ray spatter so damaged it’s almost impossible to place. “Let’s Fly” plays seance over flanged chords, summoning lost voices as if it’s watching The Disintegration Tapes roll in reverse. “Wrong Potion” may be the most disruptive track here, a chaos of overlapping signals that buckle and flail, picking out the patterns of beauty in amongst the white noise and “The Kettle Men” has mechanist swagger that’s buffeted by ambient gusts, like a cyborg revisioning of Sly Stone’s paranoid funk and one of the most head-spinningly dense tracks Actress has put his name to.
Although the album touches on all these styles, it’s unified by a particularly Actress approach, a gloriously off-kilter brand of techno that’s driven by dream logic, like music piped in from a reality where the rules are gradually torn adrift from their moorings. My favourite albums are ones that work as a whole – that don’t just reflect my mood, but shape it. Albums that invite me to walk into the words they conjure. It’s what I love so much about his masterful 2008 debut Hazyville, but Splazsh is even bolder, more assured, more labyrinthine and occluded. It’s a curious record from a wonderful, idiosyncratic producer, and it needs time and space to appreciate. Walking with it is the most intense, the world around soaking up the feeling it exudes. Passers-by turn into vague pencil sketches, scribbled outlines that recede into the mists, their faces reduced to monochrome crosshatch. The scenery becomes watercolor bleed, smears of colour soaking into paper before crumpling and blowing away like fallen leaves, carried on the dark of the wind.
I have immersed myself in the murky depths of this record and, for a few heady days, played nothing but Splazsh, yet the love affair shows no signs of abating. If anything, I miss it when it’s not playing, and sometimes I imagine I hear these tracks bleeding through when I’m listening to something else. When an album comes along that is this great and can devour an entire day’s listening, there is the urge to proselytise, to shout it from the rooftops and demand that people flock to it and prostrate themselves before it. But it’s not really that sort of experience. You need to walk with it, to live with it, to let it soak into your mind so it soundtracks your dreams. This review is merely to point out that house on the corner, the ramshackle construction with ghost-lights flickering in the upper windows. When you walk past, you can hear the sounds of something stirring inside. The house is there, and who knows what you may discover in the darkness of its vast hallways. All you have to do is come inside.