By Eric Blendermann
It all starts with the deepest kick drum I’ve heard in a while, on Ask the Dust, the second album (but debut on Ninja Tune) by Lorn, aka Milwaukee producer Marcos Ortega. The opening track, “Mercy,” is a brooding, minimalist drum battle that pours the foundation for the sounds that follow on the album: sinister, buzzing melodies over industrial drums, occasionally mixed behind vocals that sound like they were transmitted from the Other Side. This is not music for sunny summer afternoons with the car windows open; this is dark stuff. If the rumors of a “Blade Runner” sequel are true, Lorn should handle the soundtrack – the grim mood and heaviness of these sounds would be perfect for a dripping dystopia.
The single “Ghosst” stalks in heavily, with a hint of the dark swagger of d*bstep, but also a mournful tone that keeps it interesting – it definitely conjures spirits not resting in peace, although it takes an unexpected turn toward a more positive sound at the end of the track. “Weigh Me Down” further contributes to a fidgety unease, all dense, busy drumming and murky vocals. The following sonic interlude “This” recalls the opening industrial-guitar power chords from Wire’s “Ahead”, and that won’t be the last time on this album that you’re reminded of classics from the Mute and Factory Records catalogs. Talk about conjuring spirits not resting in peace!
According to Ninja Tune, Ask the Dust is “named after the 1939 proto-Beat classic novel of the same name by John Fante“, and the dark, meditative mood of much of this album is very suggestive of the fears and insecurities of the novel’s characters. “Diamond” and “Everything is Violence”, in particular, evoke the worries and stresses you’d expect to be part of the kind of unhealthy relationship depicted in the novel, and “The Gun” and “I Better” narrate other recognizably human shortcomings.
There’s nothing fun happening on Ask the Dust, but there’s a lot that’s familiar to anyone who’s laid awake at night with a mind that’s too busy to rest. Similar to Tricky‘s Maxinquaye, Lorn has produced a chronicle of human concerns that’s challenging and unusual in its musicianship, but far from optimistic in its outlook. You won’t necessarily enjoy Ask the Dust, but you’ll appreciate it.