Actress returns with singers in tow for an ambitious but very real 7th album of greyscale and chromatic electronics - his first since the Ai project with Young Paint and 2017’s ‘AZD’.
On his definitive new opus Actress ushers in vocalists for the first time, allowing Sampha, Zsela, Aura T-09, and Rebekah Cristel to voice his music alongside additional keys from Italian pianist/composer Vanessa Benelli Mosell. The result is layered and spaced out to accommodate other souls in a hazy matrix of tenderised melodies and amorphous rhythms. If you’ve followed Actress' work thus far - since his cult beginnings in the mid ‘00s, or since the acclaim for his subtly game-changing run of LPs from ’Hazyville’ to ‘Ghettoville’ circa 2008-2014 - the crystalline intricacies of ‘Karma & Desire’ feel like a natural progression of his music into a form of dematerialised dancefloor/bedroom metaphysics that many others have tried to imitate, yet never quite executed with this sort of deeply enigmatic, dreamlike appeal.
Recent years have seen Actress incorporate classical and Ai inspirations thru his work on ‘Lageos’ with the LCO, and his Ai Jade Soulform on ‘AZD’ and the ‘Young Paint’ album. Now ‘Karma & Desire’ feels like the consolidation of all his work in this direction, achieving a unique sense of timeless, soul-burning immanence and detached, OOBE-like qualities that can safely be called Actress music. Sampha proves an ideal foil for his ideas on three of the albums’s quietest highlights; inhabiting ‘Many Seas, Many Rivers’ with the tenderest warbles, and almost channelling a tremulous Linda Sharrock in ‘VVY’, while found at his most vulnerable in the drizzly swing of ‘Walking Flames’, featuring Kara-Lis Coverdale on fliute. And likewise he finds the perfect sort of club music muses from Zsela in the deep blue house of ‘Angels Pharmacy’, Aura T-09 on the slackened garage of ’Loveless’, and Rebekah Christel on the LP’s jitty highlight ‘Loose’.
The instrumental arrangements here still ooze amorphous expression in every hiss, lop-sided drum and smudged chord, from the the scuzzy electro-soul swerve of ‘Diamond X’ to the air-stepping keys and bass wamp of ‘Leaves Against The Sky’, to what sounds like Coil’s studio ELpH’s emerging in the great matter probe ‘Reverend’, and a jaw-dropping masterstroke in the panoramic strings and funereal thuds of ‘Save’.
More than 15 years after we first heard his music, Actress still works our hearts, feet and minds like no other, we can’t wait to spend time entangled in this one.