Lusine - The Waiting Room
18 Feb 2013
Jeff McIlwain is about opposites, and their combinations. Over the course of his work as Lusine the Texan producer has explored the overlapping space in a Venn diagram that takes in fluttering, Kompakt techno on one side and helium-light vocal pop on the other.
On The Waiting Room, his third full studio album for Ghostly, McIlwain further strengthens the interstice between production and songwriting. This is effectively a pop record. The textural electronics of his previous sets are intact, but here they are augmented by an apparently full-blown love affair with straight-up saccharine melody.
It is a cover that signals McIlwain’s intentions most effectively. A rework of Electronic’s ‘Get The Message’, to which his wife Sarah contributes vocals, is pitched midway between Rilo Kiley-esque Midwestern AM radio and the more bombastic hinterlands of glitch-pop. It’s a mark of the degree to which Lusine’s sands have shifted that the track would not seem out of place on Bright Eyes’ Noise Floor compilation, such is its dusty-analogue patchwork of globular digitalism and breathy vocals.
The vocal tracks here are all in a similar vein, and it is one that McIlwain exploits effectively. ‘Without A Plan’, easily the strongest song in the set, is a heartbroken thing full of gentle, undulating sidechain and vocals chopped to degrees of syllables, all gently swelling towards a gulping, gut-wrenched chorus. It is, with the possible exception of ‘Every Disguise’, the best-realised song in McIlwain’s catalogue, and one that hints at bountiful rewards were he to continue down the poppier path.
Elsewhere McIlwain tilts further towards more straightforward house. On ‘Lucky’ the producer applies his micro-cut vocal treatment to a pensive, night-drive chord progression, knitting the two together with what sound like arpeggios from which most of the notes have been subtracted. The result is another album highlight; a deeply satisfying, intensely filmic track painted in flickering neon.
And yet The Waiting Room doesn’t quite stick. There are some meaty high-points here but they are strung leanly amongst rather a lot of filler, much of which comes in the second half of the record. By the last three tracks McIlwain’s sense of melody begins if not to desert him then to at least take a wander, such that there is little to grab hold of after ‘First Call’. The record ends not so much with a bang as with a digital sigh, McIlwain having been unable to keep up the momentum over ten tracks.
It’s a shame, because there is much of worth here; indeed, ‘Without A Plan’ alone is worth the price of the record. The Waiting Room is a good illustration that McIlwain’s considerable talents might be best put to use crafting these sorts of gloriously bruised digi-pop songs. If he can keep it up over the course of a full album, McIlwain’s next effort will truly be something with which to contend.