As a producer, Matt Cutler has always been more about texture than structure. 2010’s Emerald Fantasy Tracks slithered between techno, house, UK bass, and Warp-esque downtempo, barely cognizant of Cutler’s more IDM and Dilla-based beginnings or the surrounding landscape of dance and electronic music at large, favoring a hard-to-pin placemat where he could easily shift and manipulate his vibrant, percussive tropical textures into a glinting mosaic of rounded edges and symmetry laid atop jagged lines and right angles. Cutler’s approach on EFT felt very of-the-moment, melodies and rhythms culminating into a carefully woven tapestry of hyper-kinetic impressionism before dissolving at the end of each song. Cutler’s structuring lacked for any big picture designs. Each track existed in moments rather than as bookended wholes, often treading the same general layout from one song to the next. It wasn’t hard to remember what EFT sounded like with its sugar-coated flares of retro-futurism, but it was hard to recall it in chunks.
Last year’s Echolocations EP saw Lone added to the R&S roster, and while that release sounded like a refined extension of EFT, Galaxy Garden, Lone’s fifth long-player, is more at home on the English label with its steady move toward a post-bass sound by producers like Airhead and Blawan. Cutler is still studiously devoted to the color and kinetics of his music, but it finally feels like he’s joined the broader electronic music conversation. This time with his own unique voice to add to the dialog. EFT was commendable for sitting one out in order for Lone to sculpt his own sound, but Galaxy Garden returns with a renewed focus that can often be traced to what’s going on in the outside world without feeling like it’s indebted to it.
That’s not to say Galaxy Garden sounds like it wasn’t made by the same person who produced EFT. But Cutler has cranked his nebulous, citrus-flavored textures into the 16bit realm and as far as the atmosphere goes, let’s just say the record is aptly titled. Cutler has become a more dynamic and surefooted producer as well, filling Galaxy Garden with more standalone tracks, more memorable hooks, and more complex rhythms. The aggressive tendencies found on Echolocation get carried over too, aligning Lone with frenzied maximalist bass acolytes like Rustie (of whom Lone shares a great deal of similarities with, in fact). The Warp influence, namely Boards of Canada, is harder to spot as well, and though Lone was never really overly-entrenched in nostalgia, Galaxy Garden‘s glassy, reflective exterior is nothing but futuristic.
You don’t have to go any further (though you kinda probably should) than the opening salvo of “New Colour”, “The Animal Pattern”, and “As A Child” to find all of the above evident on three very different tracks. “New Colour”‘s runny, primary-colored collage of synth chimes glides along a deeply embedded bass heave while tiny snare loops clack along, barely in view. The track lets its synths hang off any sort of gridlocked pattern and it never feels anything but textural. “The Animal Pattern” is the real starting gun, its jumpy lead synth melody like something out of a Nintendo platformer before everything spreads wide, speeding headlong across a galactic highway, its infectious, roundabout drum loop shaking across the stereo-plane. Then there’s “As A Child”, Lone’s collaboration with Travis Stewart (Machinedrum, Sepalcure), which definitely ranks as an early standout. Fans of last year’s incredible Room(s) will recognize “As A Child”‘s breakneck, hollowed-out footwork patterns and memory-distorted vocal samples, but with the addition of Lone’s atomic after-glo synth melodies, folding in on themselves like dilapidated ribbons, the track is a violent spectral neon whirlwind that’s equally both producers’ work.
From there, it’s not hard to make a note of every track and its own divergent particulars on the way down to closer and beautiful collaboration with vocalist Anneka, “Spirals”. You got “Lying In The Reeds” with its warped, windup house rhythms and chunky percussion flourishes, a psychedelic hyperspeed trek on “Raindance”; “Dream Girl / Sky Surfer” rides a stomping glut of exotic percussion before giving way to its foamy, rubber-kneed cough-syrup-electro latter half, and “Cthulhu” unwinds along a stretched bed of “ooooh”ing vocal samples. Single and centerpiece “Crystal Caverns 1991” might be the best thing Lone’s ever done. The track moves from a seizing throb of keys into a violent, dizzying dance cut like juke house on hallucinogenics, two aptly placed vocal samples punctuating the track every other measure. Then there’s that heavenly closer with its Indian percussion loop and wah-wah synth textures like the soundtrack to a cosmic come-on.
Lone doesn’t reinvent himself on Galaxy Garden like he did with Emerald Fantasy Tracks, but the jump from one record to the next is made even more revelatory by the English producer’s refinement and assuredness. The album is expertly sequenced and each track realized within a uniform atmosphere neatly summed up by the record’s brightly-lit, astralscape cover art. Cutler himself has deepened his production chops, creating a more intricate and unpredictable record with a staggering amount of breadth from track to track. Lone has begun to stake his own individual place within (not just tangential to) the ever flowing stream of dance music, yet, commendably, it’s still difficult to quantify exactly where he stands.