Three years ago, Actress, aka English musician Darren Cunningham, dropped the apocalyptic, noise-damaged Ghettoville and promptly announced that he was retiring the moniker for good. Sure, he was cryptic, but there aren’t many ways to interpret “bleached out and black tinted conclusion of the Actress image,” or “R.I.P Music 2014.” The album was maybe the best album of the year so it would have been a grand finale.
As it turns out, Cunningham’s eulogy was mercifully premature. He just released a new Actress single, and it’s a revelation for anyone familiar with his work. X22RME sounds like a whole new evolution for the artist. Check the video:
The song starts innocently enough, with an abrasive drone flush that might have skittered around the edges of his last album, before diving into a beat more propulsive than anything he’s ever dropped. The sound is all-encompassing, a claustrophobic scuffle in a dusky cyberpunk nightscape. Not content to simply revolve in this fascinating loop, the tune collapses, re-emerging in a layer cake of unintelligible voices and synth blasts. The video obliges, moving from sterile corporate settings toward neon blackness and close-up shots of eyes, presumably floating above the mouths we’re hearing.
It’s a dizzying rush and a perfect reintroduction to Actress. This is a sound that, in retrospect, he had in him all along. We just needed to catch up with him. It’s fitting that the song title can be read aloud as “extreme.”
In a recent interview with Dazed, Cunningham illuminated this new beginning when questioned about the fresh sound of his upcoming album, titled AZD. “I mean, if you’re comparing it to the previous four albums then yeah, totally. All those albums relate to death, decay, the metropolis, the undergrowth.”
He continued to elaborate, laying out a bit of the philosophy behind his distinctive palette. “In fact, interference is a big thing. I like to put my music in a place where it’s like it’s trying to come through a radio signal, trying to emerge through a band frequency. That is the aesthetic that I really like. I’ll be traveling around listening to Lightning FM and I can never pick up that radio station clearly, but I don’t care because I really like the sound of R&B trying to emerge through white noise, and interchanging with classical music because it’s not quite on the right band.” This succinct little anecdote does more to frame the noise-damaged ‘R&B concrète’ of his discography than a hundred endless reviews ever did.
This tease has left me hungry for the full album. AZD is coming April 14, 2017 courtesy of Ninja Tune. You can preorder it here. I’m tempted by the chrome-foil wrapped version, but I fear I’d never open it.