THE WAITING ROOM
Jeff McIlwain, otherwise known as Lusine (which either refers to l’usine, French for “factory”, or lusine, Armenian for “moon”, or maybe both) has been producing cerebral, glitchy, but fundamentally melodic electronic music since the late ‘90s. McIlwain attended the California Institute of the Arts, where he studied 20th century electronic music and sound design for music and film, and has been steadily releasing albums (and the occasional film score) ever since.
Producers who come from an academic background in music tend to eschew popular music and head straight for avant-garde ‘experimentalism’. This usually means their music goes in one of two directions: po-faced, deadly serious and deadly boring ‘IDM’ on one hand, or – and this is worse – cloyingly (post-)ironic re-hashings of early electronic music on the other. In a video feature with Slices, McIlwain points out that since several musicians have covered this ‘experimental’ ground already, these sorts of putatively ‘experimental’ music aren’t actually all that original anymore. Better, then, to bring the methods of experimental electronic music to bear on traditional forms of western pop – not many people are doing this, and few as well as McIlwain.
His latest album The Waiting Room consists of an eclectic bunch of tracks that somehow manage to form a coherent whole. Panoramic, the opening track, is a build-breakdown-build arpeggiated synth work-out; Get the Message, a cover of Electronic’s 1991 single, is slo-mo electronic pop with pulsating pads and sweeps; Stratus is complex, heavily-sequenced, ‘oh’- and ‘ah’-injected cinematic dubstep; First Call is a melancholic, glitchy techno a la Max Cooper number; and album closer February strikes a Blondes-ish, emotive note, but is undergirded by darkness and grit. Dipping into all these different styles while wedded to a fairly pop-orientated aesthetic has its dangers – On Telegraph is a bit of a dirge, for instance – but, overall, McIlwain has triumphed here.
People who listen or create electronic music can often be snobbish about pop music. The verse-chorus-verse structure that McIlwain employs on Without a Plan, for example, would be anathema to Villalobos et al.; these people make music that needs to be intellectualised before it can be properly enjoyed. The Waiting Room provides immediate, visceral thrills – and complex detail for those who go looking for it. A balance has been struck here that ‘experimental’ electronic producers would do well to replicate.
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Words: Robert Bates