Despite his album title’s implications, Actress, a.k.a. Darren Cunningham, is not dead. In fact, he’s more alive than ever. Always a unique and talented artist, he’s taken his sound to another level with R.I.P. While he had become known mostly for grimy techno, he’s always been one to experiment. With R.I.P., Cunningham took what might be the biggest risk of his career and came away with the biggest reward.
Think of a dub album: Whatever came to your mind, be it Burial, Zomby, or any other artist, the album you’re thinking of is probably stuffed to the brim with downtempo and hazy beats. They’ve become a staple of the genre, one that Cunningham knows better than most thanks to his day job as head honcho of UK label Werk Discs (home of aforementioned Zomby, Monkey Steak, and more). The beats on this album, however, are simply nonexistent. Cunningham has been creeping towards this point for a while now; his last album, Splazsh, slowed the tempo, but kept a similar rhythmic structure. So, it’s refreshing to see Actress actually step out and make an album without his signature throbs. In a genre where rhythmic permutations are everything, he’s proving that he doesn’t need them.
R.I.P. is a headphones album through and through; there’s too much subtlety to catch everything without them. It’s so subdued that all of the intricacies might be lost on the majority of people who listen. That would be fine on an earlier Actress record, because the beats would make up for finer moments the average listener might miss. Now that the percussive elements are conspicuously absent, however, Actress requires a more thorough listen–and those that give it full attention will be rewarded with layers upon layers of ambient dub.
Listen to the sparse and light “Jardin” on your average set of speakers, then throw it on with a good pair of headphones. On your computer, it may come off as a boring, noodling keyboard experiment. Upon closer inspection, it comes alive: Every little touch of the keys and every bit of electronic fuzz shifts to the forefront, intertwining to make a hauntingly beautiful song.
Cunningham may lose a small section of his audience thanks to his risks on R.I.P., but that’s a chance he’s willing to take, and one that will bring many thanks from his fans in the long run.
Essential Tracks: “Ascending”, “Tree of Knowledge”, and “The Lord’s Graffiti”