Still, with three albums and four EPs behind Lonely at the Top, Blair might be expected to produce an elaborate record, though he did provide a score for his brother Sam's feature film, Personal Best, earlier in the year. Lonely at the Top is certainly his boldest LP to date, its overdriven, angular beats essentially picking up where his second Glum EP left off. It is, however, unassuming in spite of its aggressiveness, and takes some time to expose its true worth.
Apart from the odd echo-jam interlude (the soothing new age wash of "The Life of the Mind" is particularly beautiful), Blair's arrangements achieve the rare trick of sounding both stripped-down and doggedly meticulous. The lead melody on "USSR" has the tentative simplicity of a kid poking out notes on a piano, and it's matched in hesitancy by its drums. "Manchester" seems to channel the Modern Love sound of its titular city, as Blair contorts a vocal sample alongside sonar pings and potent, side-chained white noise. Side-chains and noise gates have long featured on Lukid records, and their heady effect pervades Lonely at the Top as well.
While these techniques have become especially trendy in the wake of records by Andy Stott and Actress (records on which murky baths of reverb swirl around the low-end), Blair's use offers far less cushion, implementing them as unruly complements to a mangled, brutally upfront sound palette. Although the record features several delicate moments, its overall texture is quite harsh. The synth shards on the thuggish "Southpaw" are as gritty as the sputtering rhythm underneath, while "The Dog Can Swim" is even more distorted: its drums approximate a human drummer as bursts of dissonant melodies appear from beneath. "Riquelme" is a perfect merger of the two, marrying choppy, smothered hooks with a stumbling, pseudo-tropical, pseudo-locked groove. Blair's modesty all but cements Lonely at the Top as a low-key prospect, but it shouldn't have to be. Atonal but definitely not without its charms, it's the producer's most distinctive statement yet.