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The Human Factory

Lusine Moves From Glitch Pop to Ambient Ephemera and Back Again

Lusine makes brilliant music that just happens to be electronic and not easy to dance to.

By Michael Byrne | Posted 2/11/2009

If slow and steady wins the race, the electronic music producer dubbed Lusine will have his own monument by the time his career ends--however minimal and abstract that monument may be. Not that left-field head music is a star's game, but after releasing some 10 albums in as many years, Lusine has become a model of profundity with little payoff.

In part, Lusine's low profile has something to do with the ghetto of IDM music, one of the more maligned genre tags in electronic music. No artist wants it. As a tag, it's even worse than "trip-hop" or "folktronica," even though those two, at least, have some root in accuracy. IDM (intelligent dance music), however, is doomed from the start because, well, it's not dance music--to say little of the pretensions of declaring a genre "intelligent."

Still, somehow the tag stands, enveloping artists from Autechre to Kid 606 (earlier incarnations, anyhow) to Seattle's Lusine, Jeff McIlwain in the real world, broadly designating a style of usually instrumental music involving "incorrect" beats, abrasively glitchy to slyly off-time, and ambient, abstract sound more melodic and sensible than drone or noise music. Beyond that, the genre becomes wickedly artist specific compared to the remainder of electronic music, which is comically divided and subdivided into small stylistic compartments each with very strict compositional rules.

It's important to note that a great many artists branded IDM are electronic music's stark individualists, if not its rebel warriors. Aphex Twin, godhead No. 1 of modern ambient-techno experimentalism, has been branded at certain points IDM. Vladislav Delay, the revered alter-ego of electronic pop demistar Luomo, makes a glitch heavy ambient-techno that feels like a dance-music fever dream. And Autechre--cold, caustic, and as danceable as a misfiring engine--is one of the largest brand names in electronic music.

Diligently honing his sound in all of these shadows is Lusine--known alternately as Lusine ICL, or L'usine, loosely translating from French to "factory." Even at the producer's most remote or acerbic--the sometimes brittle, malfunctioning electronic percussive knots that populate his older records, such as 2003's Condensed--Lusine's music breathes with wistful synthesizers, teases with grooves in miniature, and reverberates with the stoned, lackadaisical drifts of dub music.

Lusine made a major bid for left-field electronic music stardom with his 2004 Ghostly International record Serial Hodgepodge--that's what it feels like, anyway, an energized push out of a stylistic pocket. The record is in-your-face and airtight; however chopped up, it uses prominent vocals, beats are a constant force--driving tracks as much as decorating them--and Hodgepodge goes straight for the melodic jugular. It's pop music with an abstract electronic exoskeleton. The ambience that's fundamental to the breadth of earlier Lusine tracks is distilled into a handful of pure ambient interludes. He's so good at either approach--pure glitch-pop or pure ambience--that it makes his older work sound like less than the sum of its parts.

In the years since Hodgepodge, McIlwain has continued to indulge both halves of Lusine's music personality in separate spaces masterfully. Hodgepodge went on to spawn 2007's Podgelism--a remix record of Hodgepodge that includes reworkings by big electronic pop names like Matthew Dear and Apparat, along with Lusine himself. That record in turn went on to spawn a dancefloor 12-inch. While the full-length Podgelism was even more hodgepodge than its parent record, the 12-inch result could slip well enough into a reasonably bold minimal house set.

Since the Serial Hodgepodge/Podgelism pairing, McIlwain has released one album, 2007's Language Barrier, which came out in late 2007 on the experimental ambient/noise label Hymen. It's a remarkable flipside to its glitchy electronic-pop precursors, an abandonment of any notion of IDM in favor of pure ambience. It's richly textured, full of samples and found sounds--the chilliness and sterility of his pure electronic music is turned on its head by human voices and nature sounds. The spare vocal drone and audio tape crackle of "Without Standing" make Lusine's sparest track also one of his most startling.

Floating around on the internet is a recording of a live PA set Lusine performed in 2007 at Seattle's Decibel festival. It's an ambient piece, and you hear some of the ideas of Language Barrier in it--the broad strokes of color, radical changes of sound sources (guitars, blurbling and swelling synths, harps, keys)--but the field recordings and continuous attention to texture is new. It feels like his music has learned to be human, and now it's showing it off.

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