|Album Review: Hudson Mohawke – Lantern|
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It's hard to think of a contemporary electronic producer who's reached a higher level than Ross Birchard. As Hudson Mohawke, he's become one of the top artists on the prestigious Warp roster, laid the trap scene to waste as half of TNGHT, and produced some of the biggest rap hits of the last few years as a member of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music label. There's just one thing that's been missing from this impressive resumé – a truly classic full-length LP. 2009's Butter was actually a pretty innovative album, but didn't seem to take itself very seriously, and consequently became engulfed in the shadow of Rustie's monumental debut, Glass Swords, which followed two years after. The fact that Lantern, Hudson Mohawke's sophomore album, has taken six years (in other words, an eternity) to drop, is a sign of his patience and high standards for himself as an artist. You won't find "Chimes," "Mercy," or anything too similar here; on every track Birchard seems determined to defy every box he's ever been put in, and he pulls the job off with flying colors.
Lantern is, most importantly, Hudson Mohawke's most emotional work yet. The title track starts things off with a fuzzy, otherworldly build, introducing the album's initial single "Very First Breath" and its delicate balance of beautiful melodies and violent synth injections. It's clear from the get-go that Hud Mo isn't interested in making music that's "cool" this time around, and is instead focused on something more heartfelt. Irfane's vocals on "Very First Breath" are desperate in their need to go back in time to fix a failed relationship. It's a track that takes a few listens to fully appreciate, but it ranks among his best ever.
Interestingly, the first three full tracks on Lantern are its first three singles; "Very First Breath" is immediately followed by "Ryderz" and "Warriors." On "Ryderz," Mohawke turns a classic D.J. Rogers sample into a futuristic soul banger that one can't picture anyone else being capable of making. It's the type of sample one would've expected him to use on a rap track, but there seems to be a "no rappers" rule in effect on Lantern, so everything leans more in the direction of pop and R&B sounds."Warriors" is another vocal track in the same vein as "Very First Breath," and might be the most unique "fuck the haters" track ever. It's usually a rapper's one-dimensional one-liner, but here it becomes a meditation on love, hate, perseverance, and self-fulfillment – an angle most artists would never even think to explore.
After getting these three singles out of the way, Birchard explores a variety of uncharted areas. "Kettles" is the album's second intro track, preparing the listener for the epic "Scud Books," which starts out like TNGHT but ends up being too dreamy and romantic, despite the rolling snares and thunderous bass. "Indian Steps" is the album's most reserved track, with Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) singing gently over Mohawke's subtle yet engaging production. "Shadows" and "Portrait of Luci" are instrumental sunbursts of gleaming melody, simple in their design, but also structurally perfect and staggeringly gorgeous. Album closer "Brand New World" raises the bar just a notch higher to close things out properly, with an arena-rock guitar hook and a utopian vocal sample vaguely reminiscent of Odesza's "Memories That You Call."
While Lantern's tracks are stylistically varied, even to the point of seeming contradictory, there is in fact a strong unity throughout, defined by a surprising intimacy found in very nook and cranny of the sonic maximalism he's always been known for. We've already become accustomed to Hudson Mohawke's looming presence as a beatmaker, but here he steps out simply as an artist and musician, and it's like hearing him for the first time.