Call me a killjoy, but I’ve never been down with music that seems to require chemical inducement on the part of the listener in order to be enjoyable or rewarding. Lostep’s debut, Because We Can, is that kind of album.
Lostep is Luke Chable and Phil K, two dance producers from Melbourne who have been kicking around on the Australian DJ scene for a while now. They first came to prominence after the inclusion of their track “The Roots” on Dave Seaman’s 2002 Global Underground: Melbourne compilation was picked up as a single. The group subsequently spent two years working on its debut, which the two have described as more a ‘dream sequence’ than a DJ mix. The album’s many stops and starts certainly fit the former description. Maybe it’s me willfully trying to force the music into the category of straightforward dance that is limiting my appreciation, but even so, the abrupt changes of genre and momentum are extremely jarring.
It’s not so much the psychedelic, spaced-out electronica is off-putting so much as disappointed expectation. This starts in the second track, “Theme From a Fairytale”, which establishes a quality groove in the first 30 seconds, but degenerates into unfocused blips and atmospheric space-sounds. But there are many examples of this throughout the album.
The disappointment wouldn’t sting so much if the underlying ideas weren’t so solid. “Naughty”, for example, begins with a high wash of shimmering sound. The beat is interesting, a shuffling brushed snare, and it’s extremely effective – until a squeaking, squealing guitar enters. It disrupts the beat and, to my unaltered mind, makes no sense at all. Like “Naughty”, the title track sets up a marvelous riff, full of radio static interruptions on micro-scale, an inferior version of “Zombie Nation”, but it’s interrupted by an intrusive, brassy electronic noise, repeated high in the treble register.
“Dr King’s Surgery” opens with shouts of “jungle, jungle”, perhaps an indication of genre (which the complex bongo rhythms do nothing to deny), but in the background an industrial drone drowns out most of the enjoyment to be had. “Burma” (whose ethnic vocal and atmospherics recalls Deep Forest) and “Villain” are probably the best tracks on the album, longer-playing at 10 and nine minutes respectively, and well-constructed to mirror the ebb and flow of the dance floor.
This setting up and deflating of expectations has implications even within a single listen through the album. Because this happens so often in the opening tracks, when you finally get to the welcome, steady beat of a dance groove, you’re on edge, as if at any moment Lostep will choose to cut out to squiggling synths or some other dream-inspired sound, leaving you dry, if not also high. The short, electronic noise freak-out tracks, like “Computer Crash” (with its reboot noise at the end) or “Construction of a Deep Space Station” just add to the disjointed flow.
Too many choices on this album seem to be made with only the justification of the title - Because We Can. Though for some, this acid-fueled experimental house could be construed as revelatory, for the rest of us it’s self-indulgent and almost impossible to relate to.