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James Ferraro’s last ‘proper’ album n- that is to say the last one not presented as a mixtape - was a wildly divisive work. In fact, 2011’s Far Side Virtual even divided many of those who wrote about it on their own terms, never mind amongst each other. Variations on 'this might drive you bananas, but it’s pretty unique' or 'it sounds like the shallowest reflection of 2K10s consumer culture... even if that’s the point' proved commonplace. Including in my own review, truth be told – for what it’s worth, I’d be a bit more forward and less cautious with my praise now; Far Side Virtual is an actively enjoyable listen, and not just in an arch or ‘have fun convincing people you really like this’ way.
Since its release, Ferraro has released two free-to-download mixtapes: a radio rap-influenced one as Bebetunes and a new age-meets-trance sorta thing as Bodyguard. Sushi, 11 new tracks under his own name, finds the LA-based producer moving even further towards music you could imagine hearing in a club, which isn’t to say that you will. In interviews, Ferraro is endearingly eager to talk about how much new music he listens to – the stereotype of the inveterate downloader, frantically gobbling up MP3s and streams but never actually spending quality time with them, rather resonates with him, you suspect. This 36 minutes feels like a tour through the last couple of years’ most voguish electronic microgenres, all smeared with the Ferraro jus but only sporadically impressive.
Chicago footwork seems to be the chief influence on ‘Powder’ and ‘Playin Ya Self’, but they don’t threaten to stand tall against the scene’s actual producers, or even unabashed interlopers like Machinedrum – too simplistic in the former case, fiddlesome complexity for its own sake in the latter. ‘Flamboyant’ is a syrup-paced, Night Slugs-esque remodelling of hip-hop and one of Sushi’s definite keepers, thanks mainly to the twinkling synth riff that takes hold around 90 seconds in. Fan of outré drugs references, samples of breaking glass and the sort of grimy, medicated spin on house you could imagine being released on the Apple Pips label? ‘Baby Mitsubishi’ is a pretty earwormy, if not especially classic, example of all that.
For the work of someone who was, only a few years ago, releasing multiple cassettes of legitimately lo-fi Casiotoned grubbing, Sushi is judiciously and skilfully produced. ‘E 7’, which starts as a cluster of chiming funk keyboards and synth sweeps, mutates into FlyLo-worthy cut-up raps, then tunes it all out to let a wistful string section breathe, is the album’s prime example of this. I strongly doubt even the most attentive James Ferraro fan would guess this is by him. Other conceivable attempts to mine that hyper-eclectic, shuffly Brainfeeder crew sound don’t come off as well, and just seem a little... clumsy (‘Jump Shot Earth’, ‘Jet Skis And Sushi’).
Unusually for this kind of music, where one can normally expect tracks to surpass the five-minute mark, all but one cut on Sushi is under four. ‘Condom’, the slightly weirdly-titled exception, is probably the album’s least developed moment, too: grainy, repetitive synth textures providing the only clear bridge between Ferraro’s pre-Far Side Virtual work and his current jumble of inspirations. There may be something to infer from ‘Bootycall’, which follows it and finishes Sushi off, being a throwback to FSV itself: a wipeclean slab of crypto-New Age chords and ringtone-springy beats. This none-more-Now club stuff is well worth throwing yourself into, the message might go, but in two years’ time I could be on a whole other trip.
Or maybe he isn’t saying that at all. James Ferraro’s public persona is pretty inscrutable, so it’s probably best to just rate his tunes on their own merit. In the case of Sushi, about half the album is worth hearing. Which might not be a bad thing, if you’re one of those proverbial Pac-Man-esque gobblers of hot new sounds.