Ever since Hudson Mohawke dropped a cryptic teaser video for his sophomore LP several months ago, it’s become increasingly difficult to avoid the Scottish producer’s name, regardless of the genre you favor. Anticipation has been building since he burst onto the scene with 2012’s monstrous TNGHT EP, and it appears that fans of many genres, not just hip-hop and electronic music, have joined his realm.
Like many artists, Hudson Mohawke isn’t keen on being pigeonholed. The same can be said about listeners. Despite that fact, HudMo largely remains thought of as an electronic producer, an umbrella term that some would be quick to dismiss or even condemn. Thus, his recent popularity raises the question: What is it about Ross “Hudson Mohawke” Birchard that captures the attention of non-electronic fans? In a culture peppered with EDM skeptics, how has he managed to skip through a gauntlet of haters not just unscathed, but praised?
It’s likely due in part to Kanye’s seal of approval. It also probably has to do with the fact that he incorporates live instruments into his shows — notorious live sets that turn any crowd into a dance-mosh war zone. Whatever brought each individual listener to the party, his triumphant sophomore LP, Lantern, reveals that it should be attributed — first and foremost — to his ability to conjure intensely visceral music that evokes an emotional response akin to a symphony orchestra.
If you go into this album looking solely for aggressive, steamrolling singles like “Chimes”, his Yeezus contributions, or his Lunice collaborations, you’ll be disappointed. Lantern’s strongest tracks, “Scud Books” and “Shadows”, come close by boasting Mohawke’s signature fanfare and door slams. But, unlike previous efforts, these tracks add another layer of symphonic, triumphant melodies, giving them a level of sophistication his work has never reached before. As such, not only is the album just as satisfying as previous releases, Lantern gleams with an optimistic warmth.
The opening title track appropriately sets the tone: The fizzy, cavernous concoction ebbs and flows eerily, simultaneously prophesying the grand tracks to follow and creating space for their bass-heavy beats. He transitions smoothly into the album’s first single, “Very First Breath”, a relatively stable, but addictive track that gracefully balances shrill synths, thumping bass, and the vocals of Irfane, who recalls the happier days of a past relationship.
While these tracks and their familiar structures are the most likely to appease HudMo fans, the songs that deserve the most attention are more reminiscent of a film score. “System”, a frenetic boomer, is equally suited for a dystopic chase scene and for a pulsing club. “Little Djembe” is a tinkling track that gradually transitions from slight mystery to potent ferocity, making it ideal for a film’s sinister confrontation. The most magnificent are “Kettles” and “Portrait of Luci”, their sparkling and cosmic intensity ready for an interstellar flight scene.
It’s unclear whether the producer was intentionally trying to diverge from the trap scene he was thrust into following his successful work with some of rap’s elite. Lantern makes it readily clear, though, that he could easily follow in the footsteps of Daft Punk and M83’s Anthony Gonzalez, who crafted glorious scores for Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, respectively. In fact, he may be halfway there. In a recent interview, Birchard admitted that he has been approached to score an upcoming, as-yet-undisclosed movie.
Surprisingly, the only time he falters is when he reverts to his hip-hop tendencies. Mohawke enlisted the help of several R&B powerhouses to pack a little more soul into a record that would be just as strong without vocals. Wistful ballad “Deepspace” allows Miguel to do what Miguel does best: yearn. “All my anger spilling over pavement/ Please don’t go,” he sadly croons on a track that falls wayside compared to its more engaging counterparts. Jhene Aiko’s contribution on “Resistance” bears a similar melancholy, and like Miguel, adds very little.
Despite the few missteps, the emotional peaks and valleys of Lantern show how versatile Birchard can be when he flexes his production muscles. Since his early days as a wunderkind scratcher, he has possessed an inherent skill in creating unpredictable, earth-shattering tracks still full of subtleties. He treats each individual layer with the same care many would a hook.
No name could be more appropriate than Lantern for the vibrant record Hudson Mohawke has designed: The beats are luminous, the melodies enlightening, and, most importantly, the record is guiding a path to much brighter things for the producer. Hudson Mohawke doesn’t need to worry about being stuck into a single genre, as he’s truly in a class of his own.
Essential Tracks: “Scud Books”, “Shadows”, and “Portrait of Luci”