As his sixth album in seven years emerges into thudding-yet-nuanced existence, it’s safe to say that Nottingham’s Matt Cutler is nothing if not prolific. Yet prodigious productivity would appear to be only one of many virtues behind his Lone alias; this is, after all, an act with tacit involvement in Azealia Banks‘ skyward trajectory, Cutler having produced two tracks on the acclaimed rapper’s still awaited debut LP Broke With Expensive Taste.
Indeed, Lone’s recent penchant for retro-tinted floorfillers (see: Galaxy Garden, 2012) has made waves on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps most notably in the form of the glow stick-wielding, Shamen-like Pineapple Crush; a rave-flavoured shape-thrower later sampled by the aforementioned Banks. In contrast, Cutler’s earlier works sit closer to old school hip-hop on the aural spectrum. Longer, mellower highs; fewer sickly-sweet flashbacks to late-’90s dance parties.
As such, one struggles to anticipate Reality Testing, which is probably just as well: the shimmering chords of languid opener First Born Seconds give away nothing, its composition bearing an immediate, unfortunate resemblance to mid-tracklist filler. Nevertheless, the listener arrives at its conclusion no worse for wear, at which point Restless City eventually takes the album out of neutral with Madlib-meets-Plaid restlessness. While its high-energy stylings border on the frenetic, vintage-sounding samples keep it on the right side of the dancefloor.
Meeker Warm Energy does exactly what it says on the tin – fuzzy synth lines meander across the track, sounding every inch like they’ve been contributed by Dabrye – before Aurora Northern Quarter reconstitutes First Born Seconds’ comparative entropy into something altogether livelier, helped in no small part by pounding Euro house keys. The result is a sound that doesn’t so much pay tribute to Ce Ce Peniston et al as it does revisit her era with a wink, a nudge and a knowing tip of the cap. In fact, it’s borderline reverential.
With the return of stop-start sampling in 2 Is 8, it begins to become apparent that this is the area of Lone’s expertise: old sounds reformed, reinvigorated, rendered into a sumptuous background over which freeform riffs run free. It’s an extravaganza of sound – percussive complexities, multi-layered licks and the ambiance of the playground – and it works extraordinarily well. Airglow Fires follows in its predecessor’s wake, but excels nonetheless with hi-hat-enlivened chorister voices that suddenly step aside for jazz-timed synths and a difficult-to-resist crescendo. It feels like Cutler is at his peak.
Thereafter, the adroit pairing of Coincidences and Begin To Begin pays dividends: the former hurtles headlong towards and into stomper territory, while the latter invites toe-tapping meditations on beat and percussion. The relative simplicity of both tracks is underlined by a deft choice of sound palette, and one can’t help but again hear the formative influence of Dabrye in many of the glitches, scratches and dub-like basslines.
Of course, Lone isn’t flawless, and Reality Testing seems to come unstuck somewhat in its final third. Jaded’s downtempo demeanour is agreeable yet a touch too cut-and-paste – a side effect of Cutler’s obsession with late-’90s PlayStation music creation videogame Music, perhaps – while Vengeance Video’s gradual transformation into straight house music feels like an opportunity missed. A scarcity of sounds on Stuck and closer Cutched Under bookends the album nicely: here again are the spa-soundtrack suspicions one was keen to gloss over on the opening track.
All the same, Reality Testing remains a fitting testament to Lone’s deft-handedness. His dance credentials already assured, this feels like Cutler reasserting his artistry; an exercise in expressive revivalism, where myriad influences are sketched from memory; an album whose headline proposition is new, despite the ageing origins of its component parts.