REVIEW: Drew Lustman – The Crystal Cowboy

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that Drew Lustman had abandoned electronica altogether to begin a new life as a whisky-swiggin’, gun-totin’ country and western star. Not only does he grace his album cover dressed as a cowboy and sat on a horse, the opening track is called ‘Watch A Man Die’, which is nearly a Johnny Cash lyric. Thankfully, this new ‘Crystal Cowboy‘ character is not actually concerned with peddling wholesome bluegrass ditties. Rather, you get the feeling that Lustman is just trying to relax a little. He’s dropped his former FaltyDL moniker for this album which was apparently recorded very quickly, with his friends and DJ sets in mind, ‘Without the pressure of the conceptual weighing him down.’ More recreation than transformation, then.

Like his FaltyDL work, The Crystal Cowboy is a playful, attention-deficit mish-mash of styles on which Lustman remains in thrall to the legendary dance-music innovators of the 1990s. Surprisingly not an acoustic prison convict song, that first track combines throwback drum & bass beats with sweeping house strings to blissful effect. Later track ‘Wolves’ is a soothing slice of ambient IDM, recalling The Orb at their most potently floaty. DJ Shadow, as always, remains a key influence, not least on the title track with its juxtaposing of intense breakbeats with calmer piano chords and ghostly vocal moans. ‘The Hatchett’ has a similar vibe; its squishy, pulsating ambience is suddenly interrupted by harsh, near-industrial thumps before the two become more smoothly amalgamated. Because Lustman has created these tracks swiftly and leisurely, perhaps he is less concerned here than ever with veiling his heroes’ traits in his own stylistic idiosyncrasies. Even so, his music remains more nostalgically celebratory than cynical or derivative and you can tell he’s having a lot of fun, up there, on his horse.

If Lustman really is striving to unwind, well you can’t get much more chilled than ‘Angel Flesh’, with its mellowing soul-voice loops and hushed, brushed jazz drums. Although, to be fair, this is followed by ‘Green Technique’ which is jam-packed with pleasingly disorientating and complex Drukqs-era Aphex Twin skittishness. Echoes of Richard James’ earlier material can also be detected in the dreamy dub techno of ‘Sykle’.

While breezier and more accessible in places, much of The Crystal Cowboy stands up against any of the best ‘conceptual’ FaltyDL stuff, though there are a couple of dodgy moments when Lustman comes over as a little too blasé. ‘Hyena’, for example, is merely a short and undeveloped chunk of filler. More could also have been done with ‘Onyx’, which features guest vocals from rapper Le1f. He doesn’t really rap, though. He sings a few lines in that raspy voice of his. And he talks. But mainly he counts – “1, 2, 3, 4…” – over xylophone-heavy instrumentation. It’s refreshing to hear Le1f sing, perhaps he too is trying to relax. But ‘Onyx’ is overly lethargic and Le1f should have much more to say, not least because he is one of America’s few openly gay hip-hop artists. This inconsequential Sesame Street-style track seems like a missed opportunity for both parties.

These two brief flaws are a small price to pay, however, when Lustman blesses us elsewhere with the sheer uninhibited joy of tracks like ‘Time Machine’. Bathed in reverberating animal calls, it’s like attending an illegal rave in the Rainforest Cafe where the DJ is stroking a parrot and the animatronic gorillas wave banana-shaped glow-sticks. Whatever he’s calling himself, whether he’s conceptualising or luxuriating, wearing a hooded top or leather chaps, here’s hoping this sonic cowboy doesn’t ride off into the sunset anytime soon.

The Crystal Cowboy is out on Planet Mu April 20.

Written by JR Moores @spinal_bap