Old and New Seattle Masters: Lusine and the Algebra of Need
One of Seattle's most celebrated producers, Lusine (aka Jeff McIlwain) boasts a large discography full of deft, heady IDM, dreamily pacific ambient, and skewed dance tracks with a surprising funkiness to them. While his output on respected labels like Hymen and Ghostly International has been consistently good, his 2004 album Serial Hodgepodge represented a culmination of Lusine's masterly stylistic diversity and a deepening emotional palette; previous releases tended toward clinical—albeit elegant—precision. Now with the new A Certain Distance (out September 8 on Ghostly), he's delivered his most accessible record yet, one whose tracks charmed a large, nonhomogenous crowd at Detroit's Movement fest earlier this year.
Always a master of intricate, vivid sound design, Lusine here shows that he can craft creamy, curvaceous tunes and move a dance floor, as well. Working with both live vocalists (Vilja Larjosto and Caitlin Sherman) and sampled voices, the CalArts-educated McIlwain makes a covert stab for radio play with "Two Dots," a ravishing, electro-pop pastry with a nutritious filling, somewhere between Björk and Bel Canto. Larjosto's diaphanous voice is a cascading wonder throughout. The bulk of A Certain Distance is smooth, sophisticated classiness. Lusine seems to be striving to elevate himself to the tech-(pent)house, and he should succeed.
Newcomer the Algebra of Need (local phenom Lydia Briggs) occupies the opposite end of our electronic-music spectrum: Although she's reputedly recorded about 100 CDs of music, says Bonkers! promoter Ian Scot Price, whose Pleasure Boat Records is releasing the Algebra of Need's CL/Along the Border.Instrumino in time for her September 11 Re-bar gig, Briggs rarely plays out and hasn't received a blip of media attention—till now. She has no internet presence, either.
The 29 AON tracks I've heard (culled from three CDs) are staggeringly accomplished. Nobody in this city—or on this planet, for that matter—sounds like the Algebra of Need. Her pieces range from 47 seconds to 20 minutes, and they follow circuitous paths to seldom-trod regions abounding with highly unusual tones and bizarrely charming tunes. Some tracks boast a monomaniacal, hypnotic quality; others move in unpredictable spasms and lurches. But no matter the methodology, they spellbind with the sure grip of genius. It might seem hyperbolic, but I think that the Algebra of Need is a maverick on the level of Aphex Twin and Raymond Scott. Her compositions' melodic complexity and tonal oddity—what Price calls "microtonal fugues"—consistently tickle the lobes with their exquisitely tactile frissons.
After gorging on the buffet of originality that the Algebra of Need displays over these three nameless discs full of titleless tracks, I can't fathom what other treasures dwell in her hard drive, but I'm insanely curious to find out.
The Algebra of Need performs at the second-anniversary bash of Bonkers! Fri Sept 11, Re-bar, 10 pm, $5, 21+. With EVAC, Greg Skidmore, Retic.