Actress iconoclast Darren J Cunningham gives shadowy alter ego whole album
Not to be confused with the same-named veteran European producer responsible for new age classics such as ‘The Sound Of Dolphins’, the first album from Ninja Tune’s recently established vinyl imprint actually harbours the first extended work from the alter ego of Darren J Cunningham, better known as Actress.
Hailing from Wolverhampton and launching his Werkdiscs label in 2004 with an Actress single called ‘No Tricks’, Cunningham established his new label with his debut long-player, ‘Hazyville’, in 2008; 2010’s acclaimed follow-up, ‘Splazsh’, appeared on Honest Jon’s, who also released ‘RIP’ two years later. Cunningham has also released a string of singles and EPs, including ‘Machine And Voice’ for Nonplus, ‘Ghosts Have a Heaven’ for Prime Numbers and several for Werkdiscs/Ninja Tune.
After 2014’s ‘Ghettoville’ for Werkdiscs/Ninja Tune, Cunningham took a break from Actress’ outsider house and minimal glitchy technoscapes to further explore the stark electronic tone paintings he had introduced as Levantis the previous year on a four-track EP called ‘Believe’ (on beautifully obscure operation The Trilogy Tapes, lining up with names such as Bee Mask, Dog Lady and Preggy Peggy & The Lazy Baby Makers).
But for his first full-length excursion as Levantis, Cunningham follows the maiden 12-inch voyages from names such as Legowelt, Hieroglyphic Being, Florian Kupfer, Kutmah and BNJMN that have established Technicolour as a brightly diverse new imprint. It could be his most introspective work to date and certainly benefits from being released on wax, starting with the deep black sleeve, which includes artwork insert by Eve Ackroyd (the black-on-black death’s head image is a ringer for The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light White Heat’). The skeletal, billowing resonance and sustained micro-frequencies of the sound were made to be broadcast through the warmth, depth and extra textures of vinyl, while the presentation positions it as an evocative art object.
Cunningham says that ‘Romantic Psychology 1’ is inspired by “nigredo and possession of the shadow”. In alchemy, ‘nigredo’ (blackness) means decomposition, the alchemists believing that, on the journey to the philosopher’s stone, all ingredients had to be cooked into a uniform black matter before they could progress. In psychology, the word is a metaphor for “the dark night of the soul”. Cunningham’s mission here seems to be reducing his sound to its dark shadow, invaded by occasional strafes of invading light, which sets the basic template on opening tracks ‘Exploding Boxes’ and ‘Red Blocks’. Rolling slowly as clouds against a mountain, the resonant, subtly morphing tones are pinched by skeletal rhythmic scratches, dipping to subterranean levels of whale flatulence that re-imagine the time-space continuum for the rest of the side. By side two’s ‘Colour’, delicate beat suggestions have joined the misty sonic globules, like music filtering in from the bubble next door.
In some perverse way, ‘Romantic Psychology 1’ could be seen as a kind of demonic echo of his European namesake’s deep sea emissions; new age given a stark urban rinse, but much more than just background music.