There’s a phenomenon called synesthesia where, to put it extremely succinctly, two senses are connected in an unusual way. This ranges from associating numbers and letters with colors, to tasting something when a certain note is played. I have a type of synesthesia where colors and sounds are connected. I have a sneaking suspicion that UK producer Lone shares my type of neurological weirdness. His discography is the single most textured and colorful I’ve ever heard, and in his song titles he seems to reference the images within. There’s one song on his newest album Reality Testing that sums up the record’s general feel just through the title: “Meeker Warmer Energy”. Reality Testing is Lone’s most laid back album yet, with hazy beats playing beneath warm synths and humming samples.
Lone has stated that his two main role models are Boards of Canada and Madlib and Reality Testing sounds like a collaboration between those two. Madlib’s part comes into play in Lone’s expert beat making. The two singles released before the album’s drop, “2 is 8” and the 2012 house highlight “Airglow Fires”, combine ‘90s golden era hip-hop with slippery electronics. “2 is 8” is built around chiming brass and a languid synth that lazily slides around the song. The brass, when mixed with a sample of children screaming “YAY!”, make “2 is 8” sound like the soundtrack to the coolest episode of Sesame Street ever. “Airglow Fires” is a delightfully warm song that starts at a brisk, yet calming pace, before squelched keyboards come in and push the song to evolve into a dancer arena.
Admittedly, compared to the hyper-active dance party of Emerald Fantasy Tracks and the alien perfection of Galaxy Garden, Reality Testing slips into a near comatose vibe. “Restless City” starts with a great thumping beat, but never grows over its four-minute run-time. Similarly, “Aurora Northern Quarter” blasts off with stark, danceable piano, but dissolves into haze after the halfway point. “Stuck” is the album’s shortest, and weakest, track. The pulsing notes feel sleepy as a spoken word sample wears out its welcome as it loops ad nauseam.
These are minor setbacks and by themselves they aren’t unpleasant, they simply just don’t reach the standard that Lone sets for himself. Lone has enough gems up his sleeves to balance out the sleepier tracks. “Begin to Begin” has Galaxy Garden’s colorful DNA embedded in its notes and it slinks in like a more relaxed relative of Galaxy Garden’s opening track “New Color” thanks to a blissful bridge that subtly expands and enwraps the listener. The weirdly off-kilter “Vengeance Video” is the album’s most vibrant track and has house influence stitched into every measure. A spine tingling opening melody shimmers and floats like the lost piece to Sonic Adventure 2’s soundtrack before “Vengeance Video” diverts into a hazy dancehall favorite. Keeping with the video gamey theme, closing track “Cutched Under” creates false nostalgia for a Nintendo 64 game that never existed, but one that Lone should have written the score for.
Reality Testing isn’t as strong as its two older brothers, but it does hold one blindingly brilliant track that stands as one of Lone’s best and the year’s best. “Jaded” comes at the album’s second half and, even though it’s between two other track tracks, it stuns. “Jaded” acts as a 21st century version of Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green”, a melancholy and quietly potent track perfect to loop during late night meditations. A sparkling keyboard line spirals up and down over the strange and fluid tempo of sampled claps. The main melody then morphs into a more textured sound, liable to make any listener break out into goosebumps. “Jaded” is a testament to the power of Lone’s work and instrumental music in general. Emotional potency doesn’t have to come through lyrics and Lone proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt. During “Begin to Begin” a voice sleepily murmurs “Am I dreaming? / Am I awake?” and the blissful tone the sample is glazed in exemplifies the tranquil feel of Reality Testing’s best tracks, all of them located in the wonderfully uncertain space between dreams and reality. On Reality Testing he’s poking a worlds in-between fiction and fantasy, testing the waters where waking life and imagination are mixed together.