Little has changed for Lorn (Milwaukee’s Marcus Ortega) between 2010’s Nothing Else, released on Brainfeeder, and this year’s debut on UK label Ninja Tune. This is still music that plays with stained, gritty textures, yet always steps back to allow a more panoramic picture of urban decay. It seems significant that Lorn contributed to the soundtrack of Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film Black Swan – Ortega is a musician who trades in unhinged, fantastical drama and Ask The Dust only ratchets up the excess and claustrophobia of his previous work.
The most interesting aspect of Lorn’s music is its sense of isolation. Critics attempting to place him can cite a sound-palette that has clearly absorbed UK dubstep, an album name that references John Fante’s proto-beat novel (set in Great Depression LA) or his Brainfeeder label associations. And yet even in terms of sound, Lorn’s industrial blast shares nothing of the kaleidoscopic minutiae that marks out Flying Lotus and his brethren, nor personally does he share their LA roots. In a 2010 interview Ortega recalled Flying Lotus urging him to push his debut to the extreme, “go as dark as you can”. Nor does Lorn’s propensity for psycho-drama fit Burial’s expansive understanding of space. It is not hard to begin seeing Lorn as the outsider. With a musical education spent sharing productions online on scratch message boards at the turn of the millennium, Lorn has never keenly felt any geographical pull. The use of his own voice, live percussion and the extensive focus on melody on Ask The Dust all increase the sense of a personal project.
The textural elements of Ask the Dust reinforce an exaggerated sense of dystopia. The Well brings together corrupted vocal motifs and soiled bass, before breaking off into sunken chimes. Ghosst similarly works its sprawling bass, slashed percussively, into the kind of gothic architecture that echoes throughout the album. A moment of respite comes with the granular bowed double bass line of This. None of this could be called pushing boundaries, but each production is a striking piece of craftsmanship. Binding these elements together is an intense vocal manipulation, lurching through The Gun, or just buried beneath the totemic throb of Chhurch.
Ortega’s obsession with taking melody and drowning it in extreme textures is obvious, but perhaps most striking is just his innate sensitivity to raw sound. This is brought out most clearly in the silence that fragments the haunting, smeared synths at the heart of juggernaut track Diamond. It is an approach that clearly follows on from 2010’s Nothing Else – especially that release’s wittily titled Greatest Silence. Clearly coherence is something that poses the biggest threat to this kind of project, and just like Aronofsky’s Black Swan, always has to maintain a tricky balancing act between drawing cavernous ambience and the ridiculous – the introduction of a harpsichord threatening to throw Weigh Me Down into the latter. But it mostly works, delivering a palette in Ortega’s own words that is “haunted, oily, smeared”. With the excellent release from Slugabed last month, and a new offering from Grasscut on the horizon, the Ninja Tune label is setting out a strong 2012 roster.