It appears that Jeff McIlwain is cleaning up his act. Dropping the names L’usine and Lusine Icl in favor of Lusine and landing on reputably adept Ann Arbor-based label Ghostly International suggest a move toward simplicity. What Lusine has delivered, however, is a hodgepodge — though a very carefully constructed one. The latest release by this Seattle-based Texas producer, Serial Hodgepodge, offers 11 tracks whose variety make genre-stamping impossible. Equally meticulous production, however, offers a mature cohesion that lets the album escape a variety-show feel.
Serial Hodgepodge is not McIlwain’s first full-length. He released albums on imprints Isophlux and Hymen, but this is his first major release on Ghostly and his most accomplished work so far. The album’s opener, “Ask You,” displays a beautiful chorus of processed feminine vocals that, when accompanied by acute beats, set the tone of Lusine’s unique tendency to combine delicacy with substance. The subtle suggestion of hip hop in this track is more piquantly reflected in “Everything Under The Sun,” a laid-back song with wavelike chords that add splashes of ambience to the consistent groove.
The female vocals from “Ask You” resurface on the fourth track, “The Stop,” but the effect this time is more stimulating than ethereal — this song showcases McIlwain’s ability to produce house. The minimalism can at first feel underwhelmingly anticlimactic, but a closer listen reveals a pregnant, intense rhythm that makes the song more interesting than a lot of house music.
The penultimate track “Figment” is close to exciting. Lively drops of machine noise keep the listener’s ears perked, but these pieces of aural pleasure are unfortunately delivered over an almost stagnantly standard beat. The glitches and hiccups present in this song and others throughout the album are punctuated by moody, pensive tracks, like “Drip” and the closer, “Payne’s Gray,” whose static sound and monotony offer ambient intermissions.
Neatness of production is the greatest strength of Serial Hodgepodge. McIlwain leaves no jagged corners or awkward gaps in any of the tracks; in fact, it is the clean, tightly produced finish that allows the album to be something more than a scattered collection.
Of course, there are cons to McIlwain’s ambitions to experiment with genre. He is clearly skilled in different areas — house, experimental hip hop, IDM — but one album simply can’t offer space to overtly stand out in one genre. Such diversity could also distract McIlwain from honing a specific sound and leave him less defined than some of his label mates (Matthew Dear, Midwest Product). These dangers arise only out of well-versed skill, though whatever direction Lusine is going to steer in next, Serial Hodgepodge proves that there will be no trouble getting there.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars