FaltyDL's pursuit of his muse these past few years has been about as erratic as his music itself. You never really know what's coming next, and he has a tendency to take unexpected turns and noodling diversions. Whether he's crafting bouncy two-step or thumbing through the pages of classic house, he puts it all on top of a nervy twitch that's half bebop and half IDM. Recently, however, Drew Lustman's music seems to have settled down a little: his work for new home Ninja Tune has been calm and focused, a welcome trend that continues on his third album, Hardcourage.
Hardcourage takes a step back from Lustman's apparently infinite array of sounds, surveys its surroundings and finds a nice cozy spot to lounge. In a more literal sense, it replaces the ecstatic skip of his Planet Mu work with a breezy shuffle. Both the opener "Stay I'm Changed" and "Straight & Arrow" plot squiggly melodies on top of straightforward rhythms. His music has never sounded very quantized, but here we get modal melodies instead of sprawling abstraction. It's more palatable than ever, but the record's flagging midsection takes it all too far: "Finally Some Shit/The Rain Stopped" and "Kenny Rolls One" are 12 consecutive minutes of linear vamp.
The album's self-consciously mature construction also factors into its sound design. Lustman has always been a fan of iridescent pads and blinding synths, and on "Uncea," for example, he uses these textural flourishes to a gorgeous new effect. The track feels as if it's made from bright lens flares and vapour trails. "She Sleeps" uses the same devices, bobbing a transient burst of noise on shuffling metal—wondrously ethereal with its heavenly vocal from Friendly Fires' Ed Macfarlane, it's a career best for Lustman that's only made more intriguing by its ambiguous and unsettling lyrics.
Of course, we don't (or we shouldn't) look to FaltyDL for exercises in restraint, and Hardcourage has morsels to sate those hungry for the old speed demon we know and love. Effortlessly melting trap-esque drums into electric piano, "For Karme" is a slow free-fall where you can feel every drop in altitude hit you in the stomach. "Korban Dallas" and "Re Assimilate" feature an array of strange and warmed-over samples that should be familiar to FaltyDL's acolytes, even if they're a little slower than usual. The whole LP is like that, really: it's as if Lustman managed to calm his busy mind for a minute and carefully craft his music instead of letting it spurt out in hunks of crystalline melody. Hardcourage is not necessarily his most exciting music—in fact it gets a little sleepy after a while. But once you're drifting away to the dreamy "Bells," as it saunters half-lidded to a close, you might wonder if that's actually the point.