What does ‘Intelligent Dance Music’ even mean? I know what these words individually mean – don’t get me wrong. It’s just when they’re arranged alongside one another like that I become a little confused. Does it mean to imply that only intelligent people can dance to it? Or is it the music itself that has attained sentience and is quietly mouldering away in a pit of its own self-loathing and narcissism? Inquiring Lyles wants to know – but these considerations shouldn’t reflect too adversely on Loraine James‘ Reflection. Pun not only intended but pre-planned, rehearsed, baptised, and welcomed into my family. Intelligent Dance Music. Alright.
Loraine James is a producer from the UK, purveyor of experimental, electronic postcards from the Black/Queer youth sectors of that little corner of the Earth. I like her. The woman has hutzpah – as I occasionally wish my grandparents would have said. This hutzpah is made evident by, to pick an example from the air, her commitment to mood over groove. The skittering, splattering bass drum patterns and white-noise-drenched synth make us feel a certain way – they make me feel a certain way in any event, but it isn’t comforting. It doesn’t induce one to dance. Even supposing I were intelligent enough. Maybe that’s it! Perhaps IDM is a conspiratorial litmus test put before us by the Illuminati or the Lizard Folk to ascertain whether we are intelligent enough to rule beside them from thrones made from the bones of the idiotic and the uncoordinated! My God, I’ve solved it.
Reflection eases in but then explodes. It wrenches this way and that. It pulsates more than it plays and, somehow, the sombre yet restless but hopeful mood James conjures up remains consistent throughout. Even as literally nothing musically displays consistency. It’s quite a trick. This trick is aided in part, I think, by the generous incorporating of guest vocalists of myriad genre heritages. There’s Xzavier Stone on opener “Built to Last”, Le3 bLACK on “Black Ting” among others – hip-hop here, downbeat grime there. R&B when you least expect it. And yet all of this, all of these disparate influences and styles, coalescing and swirling through the filter of James’ intriguing, adversarial take on quasi-belligerent anti-melody. Aphex Twin was occasionally this abrasive, Radiohead are typically this moody, but James makes an anxious marriage of these apposite forces. My theory is it’s because Reflection is a lockdown baby. One of those babies. Agoraphobia and disquieting agitation froth fairly tremble from every offbeat and reverb-drenched, murmured word.
The title track, “Reflection”, serves as almost the exemplar of what I’m talking about – you’ll see what I mean when you listen for yourself; the melancholy of the keys and the alien, discordant vocal effects combine to give the listener an abiding sense of on-edge introspection. When the vibe breaks finally and an R&B head-nodder of a tune emerges, its only to say hi briefly before dissolving again into a sea of submerged, unresolved concern.
“On The Lake Outside”, on the other hand, takes that formula and inverts it – beginning with a tease of wistful singalong shoegaze before James’ seemingly never-ending lust for jingly jangly, offbeat percussion slides in and over everything. The mood of vulnerability Loraine James manages to attain and sustain throughout the album would be impressive if she restricted herself to one genre or style – the fact that she takes a more collagist, Jackson Pollock approach to songwriting and maintains a coherent, consistent mood is nothing short of astounding as far as artistic vision is concerned.
“Self Doubt (Leaving The Club Early)” is probably my favourite track on the album – the title alone brings me rising tides of bittersweet nostalgia. Is it ever too early to leave the club? The answer, of course, is no. ‘Hate the music that I’m playing/That is why you’re not staying/That is why there is no dancing’. A mournful lament that there are no intelligent people in the club? Probably not.
If you like your electronica to challenge you, if you like your genres melted together in a pot, if you prefer your identity politics mentioned more than you like them howled at you – but most importantly, if you enjoy your artistic vulnerability sprinkled with a healthy dose of hutzpah – you could do a great deal worse than Loraine James‘ Reflection. It didn’t manage to make me dance but it did succeed in helping me feel. An altogether more impressive achievement in these pathologically unreflective times.