Review: L-R – L-R EP (Null+Void Recordings)

I was determined not to describe this record as a release by an electro supergroup because, well, calling anything that tends to elicit images of old, beardy men knocking out tired versions of 70’s country rock with extra noodling. With a supergroup the general vibe seems too often to be that of a jam session gone feral. It’s not usually a term of endearment.

But, hell, that’s what I’m going to describe L-R as, seeing as it contains Johnny Oakley of Monoak and Freerotation, Simon Lynch of London Modular Alliance, and Keith Tenniswood of Radioactive Man and Two Lone Swordsmen fame. That’s a heck of a pedigree right there, so supergroup it is.

I shouldn’t have really worried though, because any imagined Curse Of The Supergroup is only really noticeable by its absence. What the L-R EP brings us is actually rather difficult to define; this certainly isn’t straight forward electro, and in that, interestingly, it shares musical space with several other current producers who are perhaps using the freedom created by the genre’s new-found kudos to push outward from a common source towards new world.

While electro certainly provides part of the foundation, you get the feeling that it is really present as one of many different coloured threads which make up the fabric of the L-R sound. Where a lot of the current scene has explored unimagined depths of, uh, deepness, or woven old-school fury over new school bones, L-R have driven right on. Aside from the more obvious influences, there is a breadth to the music which draws on a welter of textures providing styling and concepts which help to expand the ideas at the centre of the music.

In fact, it’s possible to split the EP into two parts. The first, containing Tigerstripes and Fruitcakes are closest to the genre we know and love. Tigerstripes in particular welds a tight, jackhammer beat to a shimmery, shadowy, realm which slowly grows not only in intensity but also in a dark humour which feeds the stormy clouds of bass and chattering fills, and helps to propel the track into a place reminiscent of a time when UK electronica was often defined by a subtle (actually usually not so subtle) mix of menace and cheekiness – a very different type of attitude which long kept it distinct from what was happening both in the States and mainland Europe. The vocal sample, buried deep enough in the mix that it remains blurred and unsettling, accentuates and tightens that mood very nicely indeed.

Fruitcakes, a wide-eyed burst of insanity, is perhaps even more fun. The same mood is mounted here on something that is perhaps a little more obvious – a sort of more classically technobass feel that takes you quickly in hand before slamming you against the wall. The little touches are flavoured by the Detroit of Underground Resistance and Drexciya but are never as overt as that, and the tune works a grubby, delighted, magic through suggestion, the ghosts of those Motor-city ideas rather than the sounds themselves, as it ramps up the heat. It feels like a lost tune from UR’s classic Interstellar Fugitives compilation album with a similar nervous yet righteous energy acting as both guide and pacemaker.

The other half of the EP resets everything, and it benefits from you resetting yourself as well. On Land the breaks vanish, replaced by a straightened, precise, and cybernetically 4/4 drive which paces itself beneath swirling half-colours. The tune evokes an older form of electronica, one that dates from before house music had made its full impact. It’s not so much in the unfurling sounds, for there are elements there just as at home in early, woozy, minimalist techno, but in the way the lazy, gentle, melody travels with the breeze kicked up by the shifting tide of the beats, and predicates its insistent warmth on a measured introspection.

Aesop, finally, blends many of the previous approaches and ideas together into a stark exploration of modern machine soul which drapes an almost R&B-like vibe over a graceful, half-stepping beat which locks the track down into a sinewy but unhurried groove and evokes the feel of something synthwavey refracted through far eastern ears. At times thick and rounded, at others almost spectral, it fades away into the haze far too quickly, leaving you hunting in the silence for any lingering embers. Always the mark of a great tune, and a great summation of a record which takes real pleasure in rewiring your expectations, and furnishes us with further proof that electro is slowly, but irrevocably, beginning to evolve into a brand new form.