Listening to The Crystal Cowboy's opening run, you might think Lustman just up and made a jungle record. "Watch A Man Die" is a perfect period piece for the transitional stage between jungle and drum & bass—think early Photek—while the ravey "Time Machine" and the hard-hitting title track step into explicitly retro territory with remarkable ease. The thunderous squall of "The Crystal Cowboy"—and the way the breaks dance above it—is especially impressive.
Instead of just focusing on the aggressive side of jungle, Lustman tackles its oft-neglected jazzier elements. He draws on the lounge tendencies first teased out on his Ninja Tune records with the cool-blue keyboards that begin "The Crystal Cowboy." On the fragile "Wolves," the drums feel like they're tip-toeing instead of pushing forward. Only the late-album cuts "The Hatchet" and "Blueberry Fields" evoke recent FaltyDL, albeit in a way that's more stunted and wonky.
All of these tracks are full of odd little surprises. Slow, chiming guitar hovers in out of nowhere in "Green Technique," while lazily scatting vocals float behind "Angel Flesh" like eerie radio interference. Rapper Le1f shows up on "Onyx," singing amidst a thick fog of synth that sounds like a FaltyDL instrumental turned inside-out. Even if the result isn't exactly a home run, it exemplifies The Crystal Cowboy's mercurial approach.
Lustman's most recent FaltyDL album, In The Wild, might have been the best of his career. But that was the work of a different artist from the one who made all those fantastic Planet Mu records. These days Lustman has a steadier hand and more careful fingers, but with The Crystal Cowboy, for 44 unpredictable minutes, we get the fidgety stoner that we fell in love with in 2009.