Crater Vol. 1
Expectations are a double-edged sword. As an unpredictable but utterly unavoidable byproduct of establishing an audience, and even as they work to help garner interest in future work, they set a standard of quality but also a template that has to be addressed by the artist with each outing lest they be written off as stylistically inconsistent. Crater Vol. 1 embodies a lot of that problem: while its strengths are in the incredibly organic and emotive synthetic composition that define Android Lust’s sound, it’s difficult not to notice the absence of Shikhee’s striking vocals on most of the tracks. It’s a gambit, but one with potentially great rewards; by focusing on the atmospheric instrumentals and omitting her voice, the woman behind Android Lust forces the listener to change how we view her work, and consequently our preconceived idea of what the project sounds like.
Change is all well and good, but the history of music is littered with stillborn LPs by artists who grossly misjudged their ability to transcend what they were most well known for. Thankfully Crater Vol. 1 doesn’t have that problem. Shikhee is at least a good writer and producer as she is a singer, possibly better, and the record makes that point well. The simple piano melodies on opening tracks “My Kingdom for a God” and “Vereor” weave in and out of fields of warm, throbbing bass, tastefully arranged digital percussion, and resonant pads, all mixed to spacious and full sounding effect. There’s also a pleasantly dubby quality to many of the songs, where the lower register sounds feel solidly alive and full of motion; “When the Rain Comes” seems deceptively simple until you realize exactly how much its bassline is playing off the twinkling synths and subdued percussion that sit more forward in the mix.
Here’s where things get a little tricky for me critically, though: I think the three songs on which Shikhee sings are far and away the best things on Crater Vol. 1. The use of her bare voice complete with backing whispers on late album entry “Here and Now”, is utterly arresting, cutting into the pulsing rhythm track like a garrote. Similarly, it’s her presence that sells “I Need to Know” and “From the Other Side”, both excellent examples of the Reznorized-funk AL has traded well in previously. I’d stop short of saying any of the other songs on the record would have benefited from the addition of full vocals, as that implies they’re somehow incomplete. I just can’t shake how much they stand out from the pack on repeated listens, stealing some of the thunder from the tracks surrounding them.
With that said, I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with Crater Vol. 1 thus far, and can see it getting some spins in the future. It’s sonically plush and has the enveloping quality of Android Lust’s previous albums, vocals or no. A few of it’s ideas seem underdeveloped (the asian strings on “Yaakuntik” are cool for example, but the experiment is over too soon at 1:00) but that’s okay, the record’s name explicitly posits it as the first of a series, and I’m interested to see whether it’s a blueprint for what follows or merely a point of departure. There’s no question that Shikhee has the creative toolset to make either approach work, what’ll be interesting is to see which path she takes and what our eventual destination is.