For certain genres, context is everything. While there’s few limitations to the octopus-like reach of pop music, slicking its sticky tentacles through nearly every situation in which music is played, house and techno music are decidedly more singular. The litmus test for success is less global ubiquity, and more club-worthy spins. Though he’s shown himself to be quite the impressive hip-hop producer having honed his chops in 5kinandbone5, the group responsible for Le1f’s breakout hit “Wut”, Charles Duff, the producer behind Matrixxman, has become one of house’s most prodigious producers of the last couple of years.
Prior to Homesick, his debut full-length, Duff released 12 EPs since 2013, the most promising of which was The XX Files. On it, the futurism that so influences Homesick emerged, with hollowed drums and echoing synths the pulsating forces directing his soundtrack for 2050. The self-proclaimed futurist spoke of his music being that which is listened to in the time of interplanetary travel, seriously advanced artificial intelligence, and the computerized world of The Matrix, from which his name comes. Over the twelve tracks, his industrial world comes to life, albeit in staggered, inconsistent bursts.
It’s easy to apply the album’s title to many of the tracks throughout. Those locked in the devious world of a “Red Light District” may be there not of their own volition, wanting desperately to return free to their old world. The failing conditions characterizing both “Packard Plant[s]” and “Opium Den[s]” make their inhabitants long for life in the sunlight. But through all the possible analyzing of titles and the conception of “home”, the pervading vibe is that of a land wholly foreign. The album begins with the lengthy “Necronomicon”, quietly whispering a wind-swept apocalyptic atmosphere into place. From there, Duff rebuilds his world in a cold, metallic sheen.
“Augmented” has the feel of a cheap, interactive start-screen from a mid-2000s online RPG: repetitive, shuffling a muted synth in and out as a singular drum claps from what sounds like miles away. Similar patterns emerge throughout Homesick, sending a powerful message to his conception of the future. While it will be exciting for those in love with technology, the human experience is bound to be reduced to repetitive, insignificant actions. This isn’t a novel thought, either. The so-called “end of work” has made its way to The Atlantic’s July/August cover story, and The Economist captured life in a town where manual labor is obsolete. Humanity has to find ways to adapt, and through music, many have. The “creative” jobs – writers, actors, painters – still have a niche, and a renewed focus on art curriculum has made its way into STEAM schools. But Homesick and the whole futurist concept still predict little more than banality and boredom, a world where the scariest concept is not when machines can think, but how we’ve been rendered obsolete by those that can’t.
In returning to the litmus test mentioned above, Homesick is a rocky album with songs stretching too long for their same-sound focuses. In that, the album requires a do-over. But in the stated futurism of its creator, understanding this context places the album in a scarier, more complex light. Those who use machines, like Duff has with his synths, to their advantage will succeed in the unpredictable future. Those who lose out because of them, might as well dance to them.