Review: Rustie Reimagines Maximalism on ‘EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE’
Release Date: November 9, 2015
Label: Warp Records
The shores of consciousness, a term you’ve likely heard before but does not have a hard etymology, is not an idea so much as a metaphor — and, honestly, a pretty overused one — for the intersection of the surface and subterranean parts of your brain. It’s represented as a literal beach in Haruki Murakami’s existential novel Kafka on the Shore and it’s the alternate universe where Jodie Foster talks to her dead father in Contact, among other places in pop culture and instructional meditation pamphlets. It’s also where Rustie’s breathtaking supernova of a third album, EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE, opens. “Coral Elixrr” pinballs disembodied snippets of electric guitar solos before abruptly fading out into a white tunnel of noise, slowly filling back in the space left behind with the sound of waves crashing on the shore and thunder cracking open the heavens above. New Age never sounded so epic.
No one knew the Glaswegian producer born Russell Whyte was coming out with a new album this year. Well, music journalists knew (a week beforehand, to be fair), and some listeners probably expected a follow-up to 2014’s streamlined but spotty sophomore LP Green Language when the rapidly rolling drum line of “Big Catzz” shattered Soundcloud earlier this summer. This wasn’t a surprise release for the lolz or for the billz, but rather purely for Rustie’s artistic best interest. His full-length debut for Warp Records, 2011’s ceiling-jackknifing Glass Swords, came a little too close to being eclipsed by the second wave of “maximalist” electronic music that followed. It’s hard to fit such a sound-bleeding aesthetic into a box, but 2010s-era maximalism — which can be traced back to beat-exploding/expanding French touch scene disruptors Justice and Daft Punk, and of course dubstep — can be broadly defined by lurid synthesizers and bass that could collapse ear canals and buildings. The most recent iteration of this phenomenon’s relentlessly pummeling legacy includes absurdly block-rocking albums like Yeezus and Roman Reloaded, producers like Wale- and Wiz Khalifa-approved trap-rap innovators TNGHT and Lex Luger.
Since then, even the genre’s most original innovators have pulled back a little from such bastardized bass. Hudson Mohawke, Rustie’s peer in that original Scottish scene, followed the Green Language model with this year’s sweepingly cinematic, guest-studded Lantern. Both that and Rustie’s last full-length are lush and ambitious but not nearly as much fun — even the latter’s Danny Brown belter “Attak” and this year’s remix of Jack U’s “Where Are U Now” felt a little bloodless. As with the fallout from any sound trend, one of its original pioneers was left in a bit of a precarious position, especially as even more micro-iterations of the genre he pioneered have emerged since then: Baauer’s bowel-moving bass on 2013’s infamously viral “Harlem Shake” and RL Grime’s tectonic drops on his debut LP Void, to name just a few. Rather than get bogged down in all that, this time around Rustie just sought some positive vibes, maaann.
“I try to channel good energy, just love and peace and happiness and joy,” he told SPIN a few years ago. “I don’t think there’s any point in putting more darkness in the world, because the world’s a really fucked up place. So I think the more joy or happiness you can put in, the better.” That attitude — and the inherent nature of a guy who recorded a song in the hospital just because he was so elated to be alive — is the life force that thrums like a sugar-high hummingbird throughout his third album.
As such, it scans more as a one-conquering hero’s triumphant return via non-major-label-endorsed mixtape rather than a proper LP. All 15 tracks flow into each other stripped of any context — he’s only given one interview about it — except for Rustie’s own starry-eyed universe of visual and audio signifiers. The ridiculously rainbow-hued artwork of a doe-eyed baby harp seal peering out from the clouds recalls Lisa Frank trapper keepers and Christian Reese Lassen’s dazzlingly fantastical landscapes, while the squealing slam “Atlantean Airship” references ancient flight technology from said sunken city.
“First Mythz,” then, acts as a sort-of thesis statement for EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE: Shimmering into existence with dolphins chattering, the track shooms forward with lumbering thuds and escalating clap track that barely keep the jittery, gossamer trance melodies from surging too far ahead. Like the inexorable pull of gravity over our tides and moods, the album flows with a remarkably well-paced rhythm for how ecstatic it is. Its 45 minutes don’t feel like they can be separated by traditional temporal markers; between-song transitions are closer to the vicissitudes of a mood ring, which is both a good and a bad thing. Even as Rustie scatters bright funfetti crumbs to retrace the steps that worked out so well for him four years ago, he risks getting lost in them.
Perhaps Rustie is onto something; after all, Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé are back to help kick off the new year in a Brooklyn warehouse usually reserved for their lesser-known bass-based offshoots. But he doesn’t care. His IDGAF brand of posi-vibes circulate throughout EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE like a mantra: “Peace Upzzz” — which might actually be the least unabashedly giddy despite its title — surges with distant, faded-around-the-edges angelic choirs building slowly, slowly, to a syncopated pre-drop before the hammer actually falls. Those same choral calls suffuse “Morning Starr,” with an isolated vocal sample spitting, “Once again,” eventually chopping the last word to its last syllable so it reads positive: “Gain.” And it is, for the beatsmith behind it: Rustie’s new album doesn’t signal a reclamation of maximalism as much as it’s a return to form, even if it’s likely that many of its themes were inspired by an acid trip more eye-opening for Whyte than necessarily for the rest of us. But what a trip.