It shouldn’t be surprising that Daniel Martin-McCormick has a thing for horror director David Cronenberg. Under the umbrella of his ever-evolving dance music project Ital, the former punk of bands like Black Eyes and Mi Ami has continued to find new ways to explore the queasy intersection between house music’s hopeful utopianism and noise’s celebration of the grotesque. Like Cronenberg, Ital is simultaneously inspired and repelled by the human body, finding it both a source of pleasure and anxiety.
Following his evanescent debut from this year, Hive Mind, released on Planet Mu, Ital sounds eager to delve deeper into the realm of body horror on his follow-up, Dream On. In the same way that Cronenberg imitated and twisted the genre conventions of classic monster movies, Ital embodies and emulates the joyful tropes of electronic music while giving his brand of technoise a dollop of doom. As the sense of dread builds over the course of 42 minutes, the album’s title becomes less of an invitation and more of a command. Dream On…or else.
Like any savvy horror-meister, Ital is smart enough to lull the listener into a sense of complacency with some levity and sex before dropping in the really grisly material. Album opener “Despot” is a sprite, shimmering slow-build of a house track, all coiled-up intensity and beat-centric revelry; it’s tellingly the most Hive Mind-like song on the album. Stretching out over an almost-earned nine minutes, Ital lets the hypnotic beat do most of the work, occasionally dropping bits of delay and hints of psychedelia into the song’s garish churn. It’s fun and perhaps danceable, but it’s also unnerving.
Where Hive Mind’s most palpable pop moment came courtesy of an oddly euphoric sample of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” Dream On is more cagey in its allusions. On the album’s second track, “Boi,” Ital builds an entire song around a vocal snippet from Beyonce’s reggae-indebted hit “Baby Boy” but never lets her take over the song in quite the same way that the Gaga sample dominated the quasi-mission-statement “Doesn’t Matter If You Love Him.” Instead, he takes the sweaty, writhing sensuality of Beyonce’s Sean Paul collaboration and morphs it into a robotic loop of robotic chirps, hissing synths and little whooshes that sound like sad laser guns firing at an unseen enemy lurking in the shadows. Luckily, Ital rarely feels the need to throw his cleverness in your face, instead letting the connections and ideas emerge organically without too much hand-holding.
This lack of clear signposts can make navigating the nightmare-laden second half of Dream On a bit more difficult as the sound effects pile up and the tracks get denser—one song is even cheekily titled “What A Mess”—but that doesn’t mean it’s any less rewarding than the more groove-heavy first section. Much of the enjoyment here comes from listening to Ital draw lines between his noise past (“Eat Shit”) and his techno present (“Housecapella”), forging shaky little aesthetic connections on songs like “Enrique” between the stomach-churning hum of a drone and the skin-raising pound of a beat.
Ital’s love of cross-genre-pollination reaches its inevitable conclusion on the album’s organ-squelched closer, “Deep Cut (Live Edit),” which merges a pulsating, ass-shaking rhythm with a slow, creeping roar of white-noise squall. Striking a cautious balance between Ital’s DJ-like mission to please and his Not Not Fun urge to alienate, the song serves as a temporary truce between the record’s two warring impulses. If there’s a specific argument being made here it’s this: All music is physical, even the type of heady abstractions that often scans as mental. After all, the brain is still part of the body, right?