Although the press releases have been careful to remain mum on the subject, The Host is the latest project from Irish producer Barry Lynn, aka Boxcutter, who has been crafting singular bass music for over five years now. While it’s clear that this album has an intelligible place in Lynn’s catalog, it is ambitious in its attempts to exist as a fully and completely realized artistic project.
Percussively, in true Net-age fashion, the Host borrows from a number of different electronic dance sources to collage a unique sound, but its backbone comes primarily from the increasingly trendy Chicago juke scene. With its insistent 808 kicks, cartwheeling toms and inhuman hi-hat rolls, the influence provides a clever blend of breakneck energy and sublime funkiness. Although the album is undoubtedly geared toward headphone listening, the nods to juke play on the connotations of that genre’s inextricable
physical counterpart, footwork or juking. The dance, which combines house and breakdancing styles, is robotically jerky but without the quaint awkwardness of doing the robot. Instead, as one might expect from the music, it’s incredibly fast and intricate, certain steps becoming almost imperceptible in the flurry of movement. As The Host‘s major conceit is Internet-as-aesthetic, its title referring to a computer connected to a network, the connection makes a lot of sense. The robotics tie in with the album’s sci-fi futurist soundscape, while the pace secures that futurism as related to the Internet, that ever-quickening conduit of speeding information.
This influence also might serve as homage to the album’s label, Planet Mu, which has released all of Lynn’s LPs. It was that U.K. label that launched the Bangs And Works series in 2010, a cataloging project that brought the dizzying sounds of juke worldwide, leading directly to its sudden appearance in European dance clubs and in the work of blog-lauded producers like Machinedrum and Kuedo (both Planet Mu artists). Anyone who listened to Kuedo’s excellent Severant last year will find a lot of comparisons to dwell on, as the Host likewise employs a bevy of analog synths above the rattling kits, reminiscent of Vangelis and John Carpenter scores. They also fit into the label’s curation in recalling the IDM work of the label’s founder and namesake, μ-Ziq.
The sense of swelling inertia from these textured sounds creates a dramatic contrast against the percussion, used to great effect here by both Kuedo and the Host; however, there are many places where the artists differ. Lynn seems to possess greater mastery over the wide variety of equipment he employs, coaxing a veritable menagerie of sounds by seldom repeating a patch. Delirious arpeggios, chthonic sub-bass and contorted leads are a feast. That’s without mentioning the slinky and sly live guitars that give the record a simultaneously retro and very now feel. Again unlike Kuedo, the Host is unafraid to experiment with other, less aggressively dance-floor kinds of percussive patterns. The hits slow down for ’80s electrofunk jams and drop out entirely for psychedelic interludes that make full use of the analog equipment’s idiosyncrasy. The result is honed and sophisticated, unique yet smartly referential.
Fans of Boxcutter will recognize his trademark dark and brooding atmospherics, along with his more recent penchant for the sunglassed aloofness of ’80s film scores/R&B (see: The Dissolve). Nonetheless, the album exists as an autonomous entity, a celestial evocation of the transportive and slightly psychotropic sensations delivered by late-night surfing. It’ll make you feel like the protagonist of Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk classic Snow Crash: suited in all black, strapped with a katana and riding a digital motorcycle way too fast through cyberspace.