Over the course of his career, Drew Lustman (a.k.a. FaltyDL) has garnered a reputation as something of a nomad within the bass-music world—an itinerant producer whose penchant for drifting between genres can make one's urge to pin him to a definitive sound or scene notoriously difficult. His prolific body of work under the FaltyDL moniker is well known for featuring radical transformations between releases, which often feature excursions into genres both old and new, including slow, sweltering house, rough-and-tumble jungle-tinged breaks, and American interpretations of UK garage and 2-step. Contrary to what one might think, however, Lustman has proven himself able to put together a cohesive album despite his disparate influences and unpredictability—if anything, that was arguably what gave his last LP, 2011's excellent You Stand Uncertain, its charm. The producer's latest offering, Hardcourage, operates in much the same way, but whereas its predecessor was a dense, more rough-around-the-edges sort of affair, Hardcourage shows that FaltyDL can produce an album that is as accessible as it is cerebral.
Calling Hardcourage FaltyDL's "pop album" wouldn't be entirely off the mark; its 10 tracks showcase Lustman's characteristic ability to amalgamate a number of influences into his work, to be sure, but whereas much of You Stand Uncertain seemed to revel in how radio friendly it wasn't, Hardcourage's compositions seem to be made for—or at the very least inspired by—the dancefloor and the airwaves. Take the snappy shuffle and soulful samples of "Straight & Arrow," for example, which made these aspirations clear with the previous release of a truncated "radio edit," or "She Sleeps," a wispy, understated, yet sweet and summery pop number featuring Friendly Fires frontman Ed Macfarlane. On the whole though, Hardcourage's sound seems to draw its greatest inspiration from house, and to great—and quite catchy—effect. "Uncea," for instance, coats a punchy house beat with shakers, claps, and bright staccato melodies. There's also "Finally Some Shit/The Rain Stopped," which pairs an infectious, almost jazzy piano and bass growl with a hard-edged, club-ready stomp. With its almost robotic (in a good way) groove, growling bass, and soaring arpeggios, intro track "Stay I'm Changed" is slightly reminiscent of a punchier, more acerbic Four Tet.
That said, Lustman doesn't stop at just house; other sections of Hardcourage find him exploring different sound worlds, although the jungle-inspired madness so prevalent on his earlier work is notably nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, what is present is certainly enjoyable. Calm, serene keys are juxtaposed with skittery, hard-slamming dubstep beats on "For Karme," while "Korban Dallas" showcases what sort of sounds like a wonky spin on Boards of Canada-era IDM—complete with a low, gurgling, almost Reese-sounding bass. Other tracks, such as "Re Assimilate," don't seem to adhere to a single school of music in particular, coming off more as results of the confluence of many different sources of inspiration (in this case, vague sprinklings of garage and dubstep in its rhythm, ambient in its moody, distant choral melodies, and even hints of '80s electro-funk in its wonky—yet strangely appropriate—keys). And while Lustman's compositions are faithful to their parent genres, they never really seem to be excessively so; instead of sounding like hackneyed, deliberate attempts at being retro or following a lazy adherence to time-tested formulas, they seem to meticulously take a little bit from each approach—be it a syncopated house rhythm here, an acidic squelch there, a helping of horns, or the occasional diva sample—and toss them all into the mix. The tracks themselves never sound all that busy, either, considering the amount of material packed into them.
Hardcourage does lose a little bit of steam toward the home stretch; "Kenny Rolls One" is certainly catchy, but it could have benefitted from being trimmed down just a bit, Alternately, "Korban Dallas" (a very good track on its own, and one of the more energetic on the album) seems a bit awkwardly placed between the funky pacing of "Kenny Rolls One" and the calm, gently rolling rhythm of "Re Assimilate," which brings things back up to speed before the album ends on a high, optimistic note with "Bells," a blissful house tune featuring distant horn and string samples. Minor complaints aside, Hardcourage is an excellent effort, and, if the crossover attempts prove successful, it just might be the album that gets a wider audience talking about FaltyDL.