Interviewed recently by RA's Colin Shields, Luke Hess, in a moment of striking candour, declared: "Living for empty pursuits will only leave us unsatisfied; we can't fill that void on our own. Only God can. I hope to bring these ideas out in my music." Whatever one's beliefs—or lack thereof—it's hard to deny that this is, if nothing else, an ambitious approach to the task of making electronic dance music, and it's a brave producer that adopts it. The burning question, then, is whether or not it adds up to much. From the evidence of Light in the Dark—Hess' debut album—the answer is both "yes" and "no." Whilst technically brilliant, expertly pitched and admirably in sync with its historical lineage, it's also a bit too restrained—polite even—and only occasionally threatens to reify its author's bold designs.
Track titles "Son Beams," "Evidence Everywhere" and "The Way" are about as patent as theistic references come, bolstered by a kind of hushed asceticism that undercuts the album's nine pieces and lends what would otherwise be a proficient but disparate collection of tracks a curious sense of unity. Following a neat pair of tone-setting openers—the first of which features what, presumably, are Hess' vocals, opaque and tantalisingly indecipherable—we're treated to three deep, propulsive tech-house beasts that, between them, generate a fair chunk of the album's considerable momentum. The best is "Self Control," a luscious piece of breezy, heads-down Detroit minimalism, pitching bright, spongy chord stabs against a gently undulating bassline, subtly deferred hats and a tight, punchy kick. Treading the same dreamy but stomping terrain as Delano Smith's excellent "Cosmos Revisited" (albeit in an altogether looser, more minimal fashion), it's a gem of a track and a must buy for dub-minded DJs in want of something a little groovier than the usual.
Things die down somewhat during the latter stages of the album. "The Truth Is" sounds like Tadeo given a sizeable dose of the Echospace treatment (i.e. very pleasant indeed), whilst "Reel Life" makes subtle nods to labelmate Quantec's expansive but airless dub forays, all glazed, slowly rotating deep-space atmospherics in classic dry and alien Basic Channel fashion. Closing track "The Way" is the housiest on show, and the blandest too, sounding forced in its attempts to inject some last-minute feeling into what's become an increasingly abstract narrative. Indeed, by the time proceedings come to a close, what's most notable (and frustrating) is the way that all the early drive and suspense—so deftly constructed by Hess—has failed to result in any explicitly climactic moments. It's the difference, perhaps, between a great album and a very good one.
Still, compared with previous Echocord LPs Light in the Dark fares well. It lacks, say, the ragged charm of Mikkel Metal's Peaks and Troughs, or the sheer rain-drenched physicality of Quantec's sublime Unusual Signals, but what it does posses—and in bucket-loads—is dance floor functionality, a product no doubt of Hess' schooling in the brutal reductionism of Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, et al. and his subsequent years DJing on that very same circuit.
Yet despite this, it's the beatless "Reflections" that stands out as the album's finest piece. Laid out over a mesmeric drone, molten shards of bass, escalating percussion and a powerful array of chiming keys and pads cohere to evoke a vast, otherworldly aural peninsula. Powerful, urgent and arresting, it's a tantalising glimpse of what Hess, laying the rulebook to one side, can achieve.
Buy Luke Hess - Light in the Dark at
Tracklist: Luke Hess - Light in the Dark 01. Meaning Matters
02. Son Beams
03. Evidence Everywhere
07. The Truth Is
08. Reel Life
09. The Way
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