Last Step Sleep
Last week, in our profile of the new album by UK experimentalist Actress, we noted how producer Darren Cunningham had a distinct method to creating his tracks, which includes tapping into his subconscious à la Salvador Dali. Despite how curiously romantic it sounds, the act of maintaining creative productiveness whilst approaching sleep seems all too unlikely, but here we are again, with an LP from an artist who claims to have made it while drifting in and out of consciousness. Sleep, the aptly titled record in question, was crafted by the prolific Aaron Funk (better known as Venetian Snares) under his rarely utilized Last Step moniker, and features nine cuts of woozy, slowed-down acid which aren't completely dissimilar from AFX's massive Analord series. It's also probably the best thing Funk has released in recent memory.
Sleep's relative straightforwardness is a breath of fresh air coming from the Canadian tunesmith. Each of the album's productions sound as if they were constructed using strictly analog machines and outboard gear, instead of the frenzied array of hacked audio files and intricate Max/MSP patches that color in most of Venetian Snares' work. Even the discordant pads and atonal metallic clatter in "Microsleeps" sound like a lullaby in comparison to his usual output, which isn't to say that hyperactive Funk is 100% less appealing than half-awake Funk—Winter in the Belly of a Snake and Detrimentalist are compelling arguments against that. However, the lowest points on Sleep, like, say, the confoundingly brief acid workout "Obispo" or the aimless bassline noodling on "My Off Days," easily stand above the best tracks from a blasé record like the Fool the Detector EP.
Funk may have made the music while in a disorienting state of mental limbo (admittedly, his synths largely sound ambling and off-key, while his drum machines seemingly fire their samples without an operator manning the controls), but his LP is unexpectedly focused in terms of arrangements and style. Most tracks rep a decidedly old-school sound comprising deconstructed 909 patterns and twisting 303 basslines soaked in cavernous reverb with the occasional string accompaniment, a sound best represented on highlights "Lazy Acid 3," "Avocado," and "Rohypno." Those tunes strike an excellent balance between Last Step's subdued approach to analog-centric production, Funk's general penchant for claustrophobic soundscapes, and the classic acid sound that diehards (not to mention newfound fanboys) just can't get enough of. It's not that the workaholic producer should completely ditch his work as Venetian Snares altogether, but maybe he should try to revisit the kind of music Sleep offers more than once every four years or so.
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