The musician/producer/DJ FaltyDL—Drew Lustman on his tax returns—once described his music as “Dance music that’s sort of hard to dance to.” That’s a useful caution to keep in mind. Although the FaltyDL discography abounds with beats, it also offers plenty besides: the jazz-based influences of his upbringing, trancey-moody stuff, and sui generis soundscapes that challenge even the nimblest clubgoer’s feet.
What FaltyDL has never offered before is Lustman’s voice. The talking point (so to speak) of A Nurse to My Patience is that it does. It’s as if, after all these years of letting his tracks do their own communicating or sometimes working with other vocalists, Lustman has finally emerged to tell us what’s really on his mind and in his heart—at least in their current orientation.
That orientation is no longer as simple as it was back when albums like the open-knit, smooth and supple Hardcourage (2013) were blithely flowing from their young creator. FaltyDL is now a midcareer act. Continuing to make music after a certain number of years is no longer anything like a freeform, easy-breezy pop proposition. In a recent interview, Lustman told Music Radar’s Danny Turner that A Nurse to My Patience was partly informed by “the concept of getting older, not being the center of attention and having to live with that reality. If you get a good solid decade in this industry, that’s incredible, but after that, you usually have to build your own playground to play in.”
Hence the new sand in the sandbox—writing lyrics and singing them. The first words out of Lustman’s mouth in A Nurse to My Patience are: “Numb, feeling nothing, stretched out like starfish on a bed in Berlin.” That is definitely not a sentiment to dance to, and there are plenty of others like it throughout the album (e.g. “Growing signs of danger / The fear is getting thicker / I’ll drink up all the liquor / Anxiety is bigger”). “Berlin” is, according to Lustman, “a song about going on tour, becoming someone else, getting high and feeling anxious about being Jewish” (to this day, a sometimes anxious ethnicity to inhabit in Germany). But the song just as strongly calls to mind an etiolated, creatively exhausted David Bowie taking refuge in Berlin in the second half of the 1970s and making his legendary Low-Heroes-Lodger trilogy there.
Another Bowie allusion is the sudden intrusion, in the next song on A Nurse to My Patience—the strictly danceable “One Hitter”—of a guitar lick that sounds almost exactly like the one from Bowie’s “Fame’. And if Bono was doing the vocals instead of Lustman, the tune could fit comfortably on U2’s Berlin record, 1991’s Achtung Baby.
The echoes aren’t only of Berlin. Much of A Nurse to My Patience seems to summon all manner of the music of the past, from the 1970s—the decade in which much of what know today as “dance music” originated—to the 1990s. One song, “God Light”, recalls the mope-pop of the 1980s, with Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard taking the mic from Lustman to deliver the Anglo vocal duties needed to give the track its proper man-in-eyeliner effect. Going back even further, there is an unmistakable melodic cop of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” affixed to the beginning of one track, “Four Horses”, which rolls on a lush waterbed of acoustic guitar—and has no beats at all.
Although FaltyDL is known as an electronic and digital musical force, A Nurse to My Patience makes ample use of the acoustic and analog instruments of old—more remaking of the sonic playground. “This new album is about stepping outside of my electronic music comfort zone and trying to challenge myself,” he told Music Radar. “I’m basically trying to enter the indie realm.”
The album’s lyrics, like its music, belong in that realm’s introspective, customarily oblique, and sometimes diffident voice: “My place is in the rear now / The lonely typesetter” is the concession of “A Vow”, lines that exude a superannuated isolation pervasive throughout the album. Near the end, “A Brother Bears the Silence”—another beatless song, mostly just acoustic guitar and strings (and Barwick’s voice again)—floats on Lustman’s repeated line, “Forever in this world alone.”
That A Nurse to My Patience keeps returning to downer lyrical content is also a reflection of the effects of the pandemic: “the monotony of waiting and power of isolation” were the album’s creative fuel, just as Bowie’s Berlin trilogy grew out of his dissipation, not inspiration. That’s why those three albums, like A Nurse to My Patience, are only fitfully danceable and hardly suited for the high-energy, high-decibel arena spectacle of Bowie’s early 1970s heyday—and why A Nurse to Patience isn’t coming to a house party or club date near you. This is home-alone, headphones-on, glow-of-a-smartphone-in-the-dark music.
As for Lustman’s newly introduced singing voice, it’s mild but warm, slightly vague, often floating in the mix rather than soaring over it, and it suits his lyrical mood. He often sounds like he’s singing from some subaqueous depth, at once confessing and medicating his isolation and dislocation. Deeper still, a barely suppressed anxiety and mental chaos are quietly clear, and surely we can all appreciate why. “Pandemic” and “pandemonium” only sound like etymological siblings. One means all the people (getting sick), the other means all the demons (getting together). Taken as a record of its moment, A Nurse to My Patience is the sound of all the demons dancing in FaltyDL’s head so loudly that they’ve forced their way out of his mouth. And now that he has established his voice, it’ll be interesting to hear what he has to sing about after the pandemic hangover and the anxieties of midcareer uncertainty have finally passed.