New Yorker Drew Lustman, who records under the name FaltyDL, has established himself as one of America’s pre-eminent electronic producers over the course of a career that has seen him experimenting with disparate sounds and styles from across dance music’s spectrum.
Both of his previous albums, released on Planet Mu, were wildly eclectic works that featured dazzling production skills but did not quite hit the mark as cohesive works. Hardcourage, his first full length released on Ninja Tune, is perhaps his definitive work.
Hardcourage is markedly more restrained and streamlined than what has gone before. Lustman has a clear appreciation of electronic music’s history which enables him to merge classic sounds, like early ’90s rave and UK two-step garage, with a progressive sensibility for where dance music may be headed. Throughout all of Lustman’s work, there is a battle between the old and the new. In the case of this record, he finds a pleasing balance with subtle rave and house influences meshing nicely with post dubstep rhythms and grooves. A lot of care and attention has gone into crafting a coherent and satisfying album, which is immediately apparent from the opening track Stay I’m Changed, a cavernous deep house groove that rumbles into a pulsing crescendo.
Perhaps Lustman’s newfound artistic focus can be attributed to personal satisfaction. He states that he fell in love while recording the album and there is certainly an evocative quality to much of the material here, which is laid back and sashays rather than bludgeons. The grooves are more refined and the beats less intense but no less captivating. She Sleeps, featuring the exquisite vocals of Friendly Fires’ Ed MacFarlane, is a good example of the album’s blissed out, loved up quality. The track’s slowly building minimal house makes for a dreamy pop song that could be the elusive hit that has eluded Lustman so far.
At times, Hardcourage sounds curiously restrained. The middle portion of the album meanders along. Tracks like Uncea and For Karme are lovely pieces of electronica but they lack the thrilling quality of much of Lustman’s early material. Hardcourage shows less of a desire to thrill and challenge the listener and is content to float along on its blissfully contended path.
There are a few harder edged moments on the album that show FaltyDL still has few peers as an electronic alchemist. Chief among these is the excellent Kenny Rolls One, which is an absolute joy; five minutes of unrelenting electro funk stomp, incredibly brash and with an impossibly insidious rhythmic groove, it is up there with FaltyDL’s best pieces.
Korben Dallas – named after the Bruce Willis hero character in The Fifth Element – continues the more strident second half with enveloping swarms of synth sounds threatening to suffocate the slight rhythm. There are few producers right now more adept at sonic dynamics than Drew Lustman, and this track is a good representation of his talents.
Love songs have always had a place in electronic music. Indeed, rave music deals primarily in emotions and evocative feelings, and there is no more powerful feeling than love. Lustman’s personal rapture is most overtly expressed in the album’s closing track Bells. It is a different kind of FaltyDL. The song is wistful and easy going; melodica and saxophone are used making it a sonic expression of joy.
Hardcourage is a different kind of FaltyDL album. Many previous fans may be slightly put off by the lack of wild abandon and experimentation, but there is a newfound lucidity here that is ultimately more rewarding.