As technologies advance and become integral to our social development, the skills required to harness those technologies have become markers of social mobility and, thus, fashionable. For example, one need only look at dubstep’s influence on pop music. So, naturally, a shift in the perception of technologically driven music has taken place, and those at the forefront of the craft are proving that after decades of development, people aren’t just clicking buttons and hoping something sticks but that real music is being made.
London’s Daniel Avery seemingly treats electronic music as a springboard for transcendental experiences, as evidenced on his new album Ultra Truth, a densely layered and singular listening experience that, on first impression, feels impenetrable though never unenjoyable. It has big danceable beats (“Higher”), heartwarming melodies (“Lone Swordsman”), and vocally led trance (“Wall of Sleep”), but there is theory driving the practice.
Opening with a minimal piano line that rises to uncomfortable distortion on “New Faith”, Avery asserts his language of accessible phrases being deformed and reformed around the playbook. On the title track, a rolling melody disappears and reappears along five minutes of drums, basslines, and ambiances to pull you into its solemn world. Avery has stated that Ultra Truth is about “looking directly into the darkness, not running away from it.” and there is indeed an aching in the sentiments, in the way addictive formations are administered then snatched away – as if to comment on the futility of finding beauty and expecting it to last. But, while Avery has one eye on the darkness, the other is on his instruments – neither is on the critics.
A grand arctic swell permeates many of the tracks, as introduced in “The Slow Bullet”, with a euphoric and spacious synth that fast tracks epicness across many of the Ultra Truth‘s 15 songs. This sound, which often distorts and bridges sections, is present so often and provides such characterization that it could be interpreted as the titular “ultra truth”, an objective truth open to interpretation – a constant.
Despite the continuity of sound, the album brings together many different styles and approaches. The strange and brief “Only” featuring Jonnine Standish is a woozy, distorted, and ultimately memorable art pop detour, “Collapsing” is a full-on Lynchian atmosphere, and “Chaos Energy” is a deft and audacious highlight that segues from commercial-ready electropop to dancefloor-ready big beat.
There are times when Avery’s fondness for experimenting with ambient is given reign (notably “Ache” and the brutal “Overflowing With Escape”), adding a sense of purposeful misutilization. The militaristic drums are lost, and with them, the sense of dance. However, these decisions, as unpopular as they might be with fans of the more intelligible songs here, distinguish this album from being a mindless party companion or an excellent imagined video game soundtrack.
Now that AI-generated music is possible, there’s the delicious idea of a music-based Turing test, a test that, if Ultra Truth took, would pass as human with flying colors. So many things work, from the child-like innocence of “Spider” to the lofty grandeur of “Devotion”, the dazzling collaborations that add a touch of human fallibility, and the thematic glue, ideas from early in the album that sneak back in for reference. Of course, somewhere in the hour, you’re likely to get fed up with everything; the Lego-block arrangements, the distortion, the drums that resemble ants let loose on a pile of sugar. But they’re all part of it and culminate with accessibility to create a comprehensive investigation into the truth of the human condition, whatever that may be for the listener.
Avery is known for his technical mastery and way with melody, yet perhaps a sense of balance defines this masterful record. His melodies are nearly always harmonious, full of counterplay, and intuitively played off his polyrhythmic beats. Textures are added that exist separately from yet inform the primary notation, and chaos has been given order through immaculate sonic molding. The indefatigable tracks are softened by more ruminative numbers, affording respite and retrospection amid the jungle-thick maze of emotion and mood. Ultra Truth is both a danceable and listening collection that packs a corporeal punch and a spiritual cleanse.