Between his über-busy day job as frontman of Chicago band Houses, Dexter Tortoriello has finally managed to cobble together a debut LP as his producer alter-ego, Dawn Golden, entitled Still Life. Formerly known as Dawn Golden and Rosy Cross, Tortoriello has spent the past three years slowly chiselling the marble at Diplo‘s studio, carefully buffing and polishing his musical identity in the morsels of spare time. Evidently a labour of love – why else would you spend so much time slaving away in your precious free hours? – Tortoriello’s opening gambit as Dawn Golden sees him embrace the Sandman-producer aesthetic, dabble in blissed-out dream-pop and chill harder than a penguin on valium.
Perhaps the most memorable track on the LP is,the title track. Sampling either the original of NO CEREMONY///‘s Hurt Love, or Dawn Golden’s own remix, it was an early ‘hit’ (if it can be described as such) for Tortoriello’s second project. In this new, updated version, we see Dawn Golden reappropriate the half-tempo chords and lolloping ice-pick synth shards, blending his own desperation and agonised yowls into NO CEREMONY///’s original distorted bawl. It’s overwhelmingly solemn; it’s an e-hymn for nu-goths, an elegiac dirge to be caterwauled at funerals and played loud over heartache. It’s devastating, but Tortoriello, though arguably a sadist for inflicting so much mental torture, is an expert in the field.
On the rest of Still Life, we see him dip and dive into that vein. He quite ably inflicts psychological wounds with his music, lacerating with depressed beats and piercing with haunting, echo-laden synths. His FX-drenched vocals, delicate as if by James Vincent McMorrow, sound brittle and capable of snapping into a million pieces at any second under the weight of reverb, distortion and other myriad pedalboardery.
I Won’t Bend is perhaps one of Tortoriello’s more animated cuts. There’s a jolt of energy, and instead of simply mourning, he’s galvanised into a distraught veneration; it’s a gorgeous shift in pace, and stops the record getting stale. Far from being chilled-out electronica, this is a kind of sadcore dance-pop. The Beekeeper acts in a similar way, though is somewhat more muted. The percussion skitters and chatters like teeth in winter, which again implies pace. However, the slomo pads and buzzing drones are snail-pace. It’s a slight tonal shift, but not as much as I Won’t Bend by a long shot.
When Tortoriello does vie for the morose, he excels. Brief Encounter is an enormous urban eulogy, á la Halls, with creaking organs and toy chimes; Sleight Orchestra is a metronomic blur, clicking and grinding against breathy vox; Discoloration is one long fluid noir&B/synthpop stilleto, driving between your ribs.
Whatever it is that Tortoriello has suffered to enable Still Life to come to fruition, it’s clearly given birth to something incredible. Maybe he hasn’t had any inspirational trauma – but if that’s the case, we need to quarantine him, lest he wreak feel-havoc on civilisation and force us to weep until we’re but shrivelled skin-prunes. Either way, it’s a glorious anthology of affective, brutally precise top notch electronic pop.