In a hugely accomplished career spanning the best part of two decades, Seattle based electronic producer, Lusine (aka Jeff McIlwain) has covered a lot of musical ground. From intricate IDM to experimental hip-hop to minimal house, Lusine has used his encyclopedic knowledge of electronic music and sound design to create an incredibly diverse body of work.
New EP, Retrace finds him continuing the more introspective, less expansive sound of his 2017 album Sensorimotor. While the polyrhythmic synth patterns, sophisticated percussion and subtle electronics may be familiar, Lusine guides them through less obvious detours to arrive at fresh, fascinating destinations.
Most notably, Retrace finds Luisine experimenting with vocals as he melds extended snippets of sentences and phrases to create more linear sounding tracks that owe as much to art-pop as IDM. It’s these little experiments as well as the exploration of melody and hooks that make the EP such a hugely enjoyable listen.
The opener “Not Alone” quickly locks into a laid back groove with shimmering synth notes steadily trickling over a deep, shuddering beat. It’s a smooth, gently intoxicating number given even more depth by the addition of American singer-songwriter Jenn Champion’s soft vocals. With Champion’s lyrics and vulnerable vocal phrasing, the song takes on a distinctly melancholic edge as Lusine wisely gives her the room to let every phrase land with a profound, emotional thud.
The more kinetic “Turn Back” opens with a strutting synth line that gives the track a little hip-shaking thrust. Gradually, Lusine weaves in crisscrossing synth lines and subtle layers of percussion. What initially appears to be fairly straightforward track soon reveals itself to be a deftly constructed tech-house song built from complementary and opposing musical ideas.
“Step On” rolls in on a gently popping hip-hop beat with Lusine blending in clipped, metallic percussion, coated with a light sprinkling of electronics; providing a little sonic spice. It’s as unconventional a production for an electronic pop song as you could get, but with South Korean musician Yosun Cho’s (aka CIFIKA) quirky art-pop vocals playfully dancing through the mix, it works beautifully.
The final song, “Retrace” is a more wondrous, shapeless piece with Lusine slowing the track to a half-time waltz. It’s easy to get lost in the shimmering synths that lightly tread on minimalist percussion as Lusine crafts another mesmeric, drifting piece that gently seduces the senses.
Retrace is by no means a reinvention of Lusine’s sound. For those that were beguiled by Sensorimotor’s more reflective mood, this will prove to be a very satisfying listen indeed. However, the tracks on Retrace do not come across merely as a set of leftovers. These are inventive, fully-formed pieces that push Lusine’s sound forwards; pulling and twisting the core elements into different shapes. While it’s going to be fascinating to see where Lusine ends up next, Retrace finds him at another fascinating point in his long, distinguished career to date.