Download is the Cevin Key and Phil Western show and has been for more than a decade now, ever since the massively underrated techno-IDM blowout that was Effector first saw the light of day in 2000. While there are those who still lament that the beat heavy post-industrial of the project’s earliest records is a thing of the past, I’m rather more interested in what happens when two synth gods just go with whatever feels right at the moment they decide to make a record. There’s never been a moment through the various phases of the project (ambient technoists, funky synth freakers and sample-twisting dubheads to name a few) where the mercurial duo has ever sounded like they were doing anything other than what they wanted to, and their new record is no exception. Your mileage will of course vary, but there’s no denying it: Lingam is a Download album if there ever was one.
Download’s current mode reminds me a lot of Richard D James circa Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker or LFO in the Sheath days; there’s a frenetic warmth to the analogue and modular sounds used in these songs that recalls that millennial moment where IDM briefly orbited pop before blasting back off into abstract space. Listening to the title track coalesce out of disparate beeps and drum patterns before twisting in on itself and derezzing is pleasing to the ears, as is allowing one’s self to get carried away by the abstracted techno of 4/4 workouts like “AAARD” and the sprightly “YONI”. Even the melancholic moments (like the lovely ambient outro of “JirAFFE from the planet Sanders” and the winking middle-east-through-a-hologramatic-prism “Kundi”) are more fun than foreboding, brightly lit in attitude and execution.
A common criticism of Download’s latter records is that they sound like Cev and Phil burnt a couple of trees in the studio (probably true), flipped on their gear and then recorded themselves noodling around for a few hours. I’ve never felt that complaint holds much water; yes, the music Key and Western make is often abstract, spacey and esoteric, but it’s also poised, collected and sanguine in equal measure. While I think numbers like “DUPPY” certainly show the signs of being based on studio jams, there’s also an unmistakable air of composition as rapidly evolving sets of analogue basses, squelches and squeaks are arranged with quixotic certainty. That leads to a certain impenetrability; the songs cycle through sequences so quickly it’s often hard to tell where one ends and the next begins. Even at lower tempos I found myself mentally trying to slow them down and pick them apart to little avail; it’s easier (and a lot more entertaining) to just hop on the train and let it take you where it’s going rather than run alongside it trying to divine it’s inner workings.
I don’t know that I can offer much insight into Lingam. As an album it defies my instinctual drive to break it down into easier to digest pieces. I can tell you that I enjoy how upbeat it is, and that its inscrutability is more by virtue of measured complexity than by falling into the trap of being difficult for difficulty’s sake. Key and Western have nothing to prove to anyone, that they can still achieve this kind of musical candor in the face of their shared and individual artistic track is invigorating. This is Download doing what Download does: who would want it any different?