No sophomore slump here: After garnering appreciation and a fair amount of hype within the new wave of instrumental hip-hop, the English electronic producer and Bibio collaborator steps his ambition up a notch on his second album and makes it work.
Though his rise to prominence was nowhere near as meteoric as that of his friend Bibio, Lone (né Matt Cutler) still enjoyed a great 2009. His debut full-length Lemurian was largely passed over upon its release in September of 2008, but shortly afterward the new instrumental hip-hop craze hit, and Lone quickly joined Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, Dorian Concept and Bibio as a first-rate purveyor of hip-hop head trips. Among these impressive ranks, Lone had an angle: his music was beachy, though definitely not in a Balearic sense, similar to the first sip of a tart tropical drink.
Ecstasy and Friends, his second full-length release, arrives after a buildup of 12-inch EPs and stray Myspace tracks that made the keyboards sound older and the beats less focal, which represented something like artistic development, but that some people (okay, a lot of people) on the Internet sneeringly called “porn grooves". I'll admit, when the slinky bass and Casio keys wiggled their way through the first track, “To Be with a Person You Really Dig”, I had to fight off mental Ron Jeremy intrusions. So, Ecstasy and Friends won’t change their opinion about that, but the results are a lot fresher and more considered than they were on the recent Cluster Dreams EP, the news of which should assure the doubting Thomases sufficiently. If porno flicks could somehow be sensual and not sexual, Ecstasy and Friends imagines it.
Becoming less indebted to hip-hop and beaches was good for Lone’s progression, and he’s now at a place where his reach doesn’t exceed his grasp. Clocking in at a lean 44 minutes, the record is at once more excitedly experimental and more consistent than anything he’s released in one package, leaping from highlight to highlight of tangy synthesizers, uncommonly woozy mixing levels and creative rhythms that pack a punch. Not to be overlooked, Lone’s melodic and textural insignia remains just about unparalleled in the British glitch-hop camp -- part shoegaze saturation, part sweet-and-sour flavor splash, and part Prefuse-style sensitivity. Ecstasy and Friends is the clearest consolidation of his strengths and aspirations to date, and if it feels a bit underwhelming as a whole, it may be because he's made a hard job look so very easy. Somewhat cruelly, the best moments on the disc appear in several-second snippets at the very end of the official tracks, suggesting that Lone has some jaw-slackening material that he’s deciding not to show us.