To understand producer Gaslamp Killer is to understand the Brainfeeder imprint to which he’s signed. His label mates are an unusual bunch, and his boss — Los Angeles experimental composer Flying Lotus — tends to push the creative envelope with twitchy electronic music not suited for easy listening. Unlike some labels, Brainfeeder artists tend to produce what they want with striking resolve, the results of which are both fascinating and cryptic. Brainfeeder releases aren’t easily dissected, but there’s a magnetic quality that keeps you coming back, even if you can’t fully explain its resonance.
Surely, there are danceable aspects to Brainfeeder’s music, but those moments are few and very far between. From Ryat to Teebs, Strangeloop to Samiyam, the producers make observatory tunes that force listeners to think. Yet despite the premise, Gaslamp’s debut album, Breakthrough, might be the most dense of them all. These songs are dark, murky and downright unnerving. The artist himself seems fixated on horror flicks; his murky cover art shows two hands — one of them robotic — reaching from the shadows. He’s either the heir apparent to Freddy Krueger or Jack the Ripper; his music — which experiments with live percussion, synthesizers, and acoustic guitars — isn’t easily palatable.
Still, of all the striking originality here, it’s a well-timed interlude that provides the most clarity. “You were always very creative,” his mum explains on ‘Mother’, “and you loved to dance.” It’s an ironic statement in the totality of this work: Breakthrough isn’t danceable at all; rather, it’s a warped escapade through a gloomy abyss, a frightening Armageddon normally depicted in science fiction movies. This album soundtracks the end of the world, and Gaslamp enjoys the view.
Don’t take my word for it, though. “This is the way the world eeends,” a haunting young voice sings near the album’s conclusion. From there, sullen horns blare a funeral procession until they give way to spacey loops. ‘Impulse’, with its crashing drum cymbals, video game squeaks and record scratches, is bouncy techno on drugs. The same goes for ‘Peasants, Cripples & Retards,’ even if it’s a bit more hallucinogenic than the aforementioned track. Here, menacing synthesizers and obscure vocal samples dance intricately over computerized drum taps.
That’s partly why Breakthrough works: This is music that you dive into wholeheartedly when there’s time to examine its mutilated layers. The results are very moody and the album gets darker as it plays. ‘Apparitions’, for instance, is a reggae-tinged ode to the almighty creator. A few songs later, and ‘Seven Years of Bad Luck for Fun’ is psychedelic mixture of cold, machinelike vibrations. Much like his Brainfeeder colleagues, Gaslamp does well without words. On this mostly instrumental album, he merges dissonant sounds to tell a rich story of agitated despair, unafraid to use classical strings or evil laughter to emphasize his art.
To that end, Gaslamp’s debut might be a bit too arcane for mass adoration, thus keeping it off the radar. From its dim perspective to its heavy aesthetic, this recording’s somewhat tough to digest. It’s clear that Gaslamp doesn’t care about accessibility. That also makes Breakthrough a rewarding listen, though it takes a few spins for it to sink in. When it does, you’ll find yourself cheering for the bad guy. Keep the night light on just in case.
7Marcus J. Moore's Score