In the three years since Ikonika (a.k.a. Sara Abdel-Hamid) released her Hyperdub debut, Contact, Love, Want, Have, the London bass scene has expanded in countless different directions. For Ikonika, that's presented an opportunity to relax her formula and play with an ever-widening selection of influences. Building off last year's I Make Lists EP, her second full-length, Aerotropolis, offers an array of tracks hewed from '80s pop and electro. The result is an album that trades in bright, even giddy bass music, but completes its retro-futuristic vision with a satisfying smattering of darker synth tracks.
As with her previous work, Aerotropolis is still very much inspired by the videogames of Abdel-Hamid's youth. One could imagine the LP soundtracking a character who's jumping over obstacles and evading enemies in the corridors of the album cover's maze. (The new Rob Walker-directed video for "Mr. Cake" is inspired by Grand Theft Auto, a game that Ikonika has said she enjoys playing on her phone.) Similar to stages in a game, Aerotropolis' tracks move between high-energy productions and more sinister constructions, though the cuts rarely stray from Ikonika's limited array of patches and presets. Aptly titled album standout "Beach Mode (Keep It Simple)" is a freestyle-flavored piece of DayGlo dance music that features Canadian singer Jessy Lanza on vocals. "Completion V.3" and the Optimum-featuring "Mega Church," on the other hand, mix in analog-sounding drones to create a gloomier vibe—if one were to hear the latter out of context, they could be forgiven for assuming it was taken from a Megaman boss battle.
Along with the album's videogame-tinged tone, Aerotropolis is also a record about escape. Said to be inspired by living near Heathrow and the idea of an "airport city," the music suggests a sci-fi fantasy where a tropical vacation is only a neural implant away. "Eternal Mode" sees Ikonika incorporating Italo synths and woodblock percussion into a track that would play nicely in the pink-blazered world of Miami Vice. The song is also reminiscent of Cliff Martinez's work on Drive, which treads similarly nostalgic terrain. Unlike the more drawn-out synth numbers found elsewhere on the album, "Manchego" is something of an outlier with its blippy synth stabs and jackin' rhythm.
The impression that Aerotropolis ultimately leaves is that of a playful artist who cares deeply about her sonic choices but doesn't take herself too seriously. Given the LP's imaginative point of view, it's an album best listened to while daydreaming of far off places or getting lost in virtual realities. What's more, it does a nice job expanding Ikonika's world, as she hops between genres and enlivens well-trod sounds with her unique production style. For the most part, it's simply a pleasure to sit back and plug in.
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