Left field house producer Matt Cutler creates daybreaking electronic tracks that refuse to deliver ribbon-tied, one-dimensional emotional experiences. Across his discography, which reaches back to 2008’s hip-hop fantasia Lemurian, there’s no quaking-with-passion romantic panegyric like Caribou’s “Our Love”. There’s no brainless stadium-flooding romp like Hudson Mohawke’s “Chimes” or cult-hop midnight show like Shlomo’s “Apathy”. For Cutler, better known by his nom de guerre Lone, ambiguity, subtlety, and sleight-of-hand misdirection are sharper tools than straightforward emotional maximalism. Exhilaration is always discolored by festering unease; gloominess by glints of hope. Even in 2014’s seemingly at-equilibrium Reality Testing, Cutler’s slow-burning electro narratives opted for nuance and internal conflict over monological sensory force. Indeed, what these tracks lacked in sonic grandeur they made up for with intelligence, melodic aplomb, and atmospherics that added space and photorealistic detail instead of just unadorned density.
In Levitate, this modus operandi remains intact. Rather than leaning on amp-blowing volume, Cutler crafts high-intensity nocturnal dance tracks that draw their magnitude from complex psychological situations: plummeting-inward nostalgia (“Breeze Out”), nerve-rousing anticipation (“Triple Helix”), and uncertainty at the threshold of some looming unknown (“Sea of Tranquility”), to name just a few of the many mind-terrains that the record traverses. Cutler doesn’t impose any prepackaged feeling upon you, he simply suggests a mood — a rush of open highway freedom, a threat of panic, of life threads becoming unraveled — and asks you to confront it. He’s deliberately laissez-faire in this way. It’s up to you to examine your own personal history with these moods and the memories they signify.
“After making a record as mellow as Reality Testing, it was important to me to not repeat myself,” Cutler said. “I wanted it to be an intense blast.” While Levitate bears some of the same ambient hues and soft-focus touches as its predecessor, this “intense blast” is perceptible throughout the record, often manifesting as ballistic teetering-off-the-rails synth ramblings and jittery garage-studio percussion. It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly is happening, but his soundscapes — celestially adrift yet cloud-covered hybrid realities that are part-Earth and part-some other planet — usually seem to be set in the midst of some violent interdimensional schism, when one world is “blasted” away and replaced by another. Listening, it seems like the sky is closing in around you; that, or it’s retreating, pulling back and opening to reveal an array of strange new star formations.
A sky like this materializes above “Backtail Was Heavy”, and the track blazes forward with a fear of eschatological meltdown. Its pace is feverish, desperate: it’s trying to get away, looking for any escape route available, but there’s nowhere to go. The central electro-blip motif resounds like urgency distilled down to its essence, but the diaphanous, arrow-pointed synth shimmers around it seem more at peace, like they’re accepting the inevitable and throwing their concerns, along with themselves, to the wind. “Alpha Wheel”, the LP’s opener, also surges forward with an inexorable momentum. It’s restless, yet also alluringly hypnotic — both a dream and a sudden jolt awake.
Considered both etymologically and literally, Levitate is the perfect title for the record. Here, the tracks are neither buoyed by unimpeded uplift or grounded by posture-crushing gravity; they’re somewhere in the middle, suspended slightly off the earth but prevented from rocketing skyward. This is what makes Cutler’s sound so distinct, here and elsewhere. His electronic sensibility is at a healthy middle ground between subterranean ambience and soaring, sweat-soaked club music. Listen to the instrumental break that begins “Sleepwalkers”, and you can hear this sensibility summarized: a hiccuping drum loop, whiplashing synth, and vocal clip all coalesce and erupt into an effulgence, but as you follow this clip as it fades into the distance, it’s unclear whether it’s falling endlessly or, conversely, shooting upward with nothing to stop it.