Actress has never been one to mess around, his albums being more like mazes filled with sharp and unexpected turns to become lost within. A Disorienting fog covers Ghettoville, Darren Cunningham’s fourth and supposed final album under the moniker of Actress, with each track feeling more distant and abstract than usual.
Following up his 2012 release R.I.P. (which happened to be my favourite album of that year) Cunningham has stripped back the sound to a less focused and grittier work. Where R.I.P. was a clean and meticulous high definition product, Ghettoville is a dirty low-fi sprawling and misguided mess. Now, none of that is necessarily meant as criticism. Cunningham initially promoted the album as a sort of sequel to his 2009 debut Hazyville, and this does feel like a continuation of the small grimy sound of his debut, however it’s now on a much larger scale with 16 tracks clocking in at just over an hour.
Ghettoville is without a doubt the least accessible Actress record to date. The two opening tracks “Forgiven” and “Street Corp.” are sure to scare away those who aren’t willing to invest the time in Cunningham’s frail and distorted world. I’ve described to friends (warning: they laughed at the pretentious nonsense) that the opening track feels like riding a yak up a snowy hill with the entire sky filled with static. However, static feels prominent everywhere on this album. Actually, let’s be honest here, this album is ugly. Cunningham’s press release for the album described it as “devoid of any soul,” and while it is definitely not empty the album does lack any sort of light.
The album art of Ghettoville couldn’t be more telling for the actual sound within. Although the album is no doubt hideous, beneath the fogs are little hints of beauty like the sketches and shapes behind the grey of the cover. It’s these small moments of beauty that bring life to the album. The subtle “Time,” sort of wanders along with slow additions of heartfelt vocal samples, and both “Birdcage” and “Gaze” stand as highlights that bring back a classic Actress sound while feeling far away and distant.
The most puzzling moment on the album comes in the back to back pairing of “Don’t” and “Rap”. These tracks are straight up vaporwave, an experimental movement from 2012 capturing the sounds of older pop songs and chopping/screwing them, something totally out of sync with the Actress sound. Now, both of these tracks work well in the context of this crazy mess of an album, especially coming in at the end like a resentment and dismissal at the state of music, however it does add to the problem that this album feels like it has no consistent voice throughout.
While not reaching the highs of his previous two albums this decade Splazsh (2010) and R.I.P., Ghettoville is still a worthy album to add into the Actress catalogue. It’s long, messy, and all over the place, but that seems to be part of the charm. If this truly is the end of Actress, it’s been a fun run, and what a way to go out with such a confusing divisive record.
“R.I.P. Music 2014” – Darren Cunningham