Hardcourage, the fourth album proper by the Connecticut-based DJ known as FaltyDL, is his first to be released via Ninja Tune. The Ninja Tune name brings with it connotations of the blunted, jazz-flavored, electronic-based music of acts such as Coldcut, Cinematic Orchestra and DJ Food. Hardcourage, though, is something a bit different. It’s laid back, even chill, for sure. But its chillness comes amidst frenetic synthesizers and polyrhythms that would seem to generate more chaos than peace. That’s what makes it special.
Though he has been associated with stamps such as garage and drum ‘n’ bass, FaltyDL, whose given name is Drew Lustman, has always been eclectic. Hardcourage offers up a variety of sounds, for sure, but they all work together to inform the peaceful, invitingly naïve vibe. Apparently, Lustman fell in love during the recording process. That may explain it. What’s not to like about a record that hinges on a concept so simple, yet so profound?
“She Sleeps” probably illustrates the whole “love” principle more obviously than anything else on Hardcourage. There’s a lot going on percussion-wise, as there always is with FaltyDL, slicing and dicing through the mix. There’s a definite backbeat, too. Yet the track never breaks out of its low-key hush. It never needs to. Instead, it relies on the album’s only vocal, from Friendly Fires’ Ed McFarlane, to hold your attention. When McFarlane breaks into some wordless cooing, the overall effect is soulful in a very modern way.
Lustman maintains the warm, bright atmosphere in a variety of different ways. On “Re Assimilate”, it’s with choral samples. “Uncea” simply saturates your ears with sound, adding a bassline that is drum ‘n’ bass only without the wild snares. Single “Straight & Arrow”, from 2012, uses handclaps, traditional house music chords, and bluesy, cut-up vocal samples.
Don’t get the idea, though, that Hardcourage is all fluffy pastels. Rather, as its cover art suggests, it invokes more primary colors. It’s not background music. “Stay I’m Changed”, possibly one lover’s plea to the other, opens the album with wobbly, blades-beating-air synth bass that is instantly recognizable from a hundred mid-‘80s dance tracks. The keyboards and layered drums recall New Order. The more abstract “For Karme” hinges on a stubborn, repeating Steve Reich-like pulse, which is rather cold in contrast to what it’s surrounded by. “Kenny Rolls One” actually employs more angular, prog-like chords.
“Finally Some Shit / The Rain Stopped” is the most Ninja Tune-like song title here, and it also has the most Ninja Tune-like sound, with a lazy, jazzy vibe and a barely-there vocal sample underneath. The arrangement stays the same throughout, so all the modulation within the track is in tinkering with the mix, as instruments drop in and out and sort of go halfway-in and then all-in. Listening to stuff like this, you can appreciate the sense of control that Lustman has honed over the course of several albums and many mixing sessions and live sets. So, yeah. There’s a lot going on here. Yet Hardcourage hardly ever gets in its own way like so many like-minded records do. This is one of those “electronica” albums that does not really sound like electronica. Maybe that’s a sign that Lustman is actually, subtly, pushing this type of music forward.