Review: Radioactive Man – Luxury Sky Garden (Asking For Trouble)

While Keith Tenniswood’s place in British electronic music history has been assured by his time as one half of legendary duo Two Lone Swordsmen, his work under the Radioactive Man guise has perhaps been every bit as vital. Moving between electro, breakbeat, dub and ever more wide-ranging tastes, the Radioactive Man sound has long offered an important counterpoint to a generation of producers who increasingly work in a specific direction, and trawl through a well-used box of influences. While the appeal of casting the musical net wide has been discovered by certain members of the young team over the last couple of years, Radioactive Man remains one of a very small handful for whom virtually no style is off the table when it comes to colouring his sounds.

Luxury Sky Garden, his first LP since 2012, is ostensibly an electro album, but while it certainly does the genre side of things with rare skill, bringing it with it a number of electro bangers which are up there with the best you’ll hear this year (or any other) there is much more going on than simply delving into scene. It’s a far wider experience than you might at first either expect or appreciate, and this isn’t solely down to influences. The reason, I suspect, is the way it hangs together, both in little and often forgotten details like the running order, and in the way the tunes are constructed. There is, in short, an experience on offer here, one that goes somewhat beyond the usual electronic attitude to the long play format with each track offering an important balance for what comes before and after. In isolation each tune works well – often brilliantly so – but together they inform the whole.

Musically it’s a step apart from what else is going on just now. The electro brings in energy not only from older forms of the genre, but also something of the cheeky, experimental nature which peppered techno in the 90s. The result, far from accenting Luxury Sky Garden with an old school vibe, burnishes everything with a sheen of individualism which illuminates the sounds with a loose, joyful playfulness which is a mile away from a lot of the gritty, clenched jaw seriousness so often on offer elsewhere.

This is especially apparent on the first handful of tracks, which swing between the laid back jazz funk fuelled breaks and riffs of Steve Chop, the rich, meandering grooves of the R&B tinged Deep Space Habitat, and Ism Schism’s gravelly, dirty, wobble. Each of these tracks draws a thicker mood than you would first expect though; little frills of melody, of lovelorn pads, direct emotions here and there, but seldom to quite the places you expect.

By the time the harder edged tunes move in a little of the sunny optimism has departed. Bonnet Bee ramps up a nervous intensity, matched and controlled by a rubbery, mournful bass. Sonic Portal humanizes smart machine abstracts and juxtaposes them with bounding grooves and grimy experimentalism, creating something which feels like old Ninja Tunes material on speed and steroids.

The clever movement between sunny and cloudy isn’t as pronounced as I may make it sound. Rather, the album takes its time to adjust, layering the listener with subtle changes of atmospherics and varying its angles of attack. Jommtones jacks things up close to the end, nodding its head towards not only full-bore Detroit bass but Dopplereffekt’s considered, lab-grown sounds, dropping you onto a speedway orbiting a distant star and pushing you towards a finishing line composed of silicon. Serving Suggestion, right at the end loops back; holding onto the velocity, the clouds part revealing a sunset full of contrasts between the sharp electro and an almost Balearic spirit.

Luxury Sky Garden is not so much full of contrasts as compliments of texture and vibe. It’s not so much interested in exploring electro’s past, nor – for that matter – its future, but in discovering just how far the sounds can go and, in doing so, opening up a world of possibilities. Graceful, playful, and full of grooves. One of the best albums of the year so far.

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