Although United Kingdom’s garage music has been primarily just that, electronic acts like Drew Lustman’s New York-based project FaltyDL have been at the forefront of the usually uniquely British sounds in the U.S. In the past, the New York producer has fiddled with much of the 2-step/garage sound on both singles, such as “Hip Love,” and fully formed LPs, like his 2011 outing “You Stand Uncertain.” Both releases showcased his own take on the garage formula, replacing the normally deep and dark sounds found in the UK with a lighter edge, adding a more electronic feel to the production.
At times though, FaltyDL’s output has felt like it was being held back by sticking strictly to the garage formula. It was clear that he loved the genre, but also wanted to explore something more out of it. The result was that his own personal blemishes on the releases only came through in bursts, meaning at times much of the album sounded like any other Garage release in the last decade. With FaltyDL’s new album “Hardcourage,” however, the producer seems to be defining his own personal touches in his tracks, and has started sounding less like everyone else and more like himself.
The biggest difference is that “Hardcourage” is, in fact, a strong departure from this UK garage sound that so defined his earlier work. There are still those distinct “shuffling” drums and chopped-up vocals, but never to the extent of his last LP. As a whole, the album benefits greatly from this change in direction, making FaltyDL free to explore the boundaries of his own musical ideas.
“Hardcourage” might be a change of form, with older, more familiar elements being left out, but thankfully the sounds he decides to keep from his earlier releases work to his advantage, most notably is his use of light and sunny synth melodies. Appearing in almost every track, the tones reverb around the rest of the beats and drums, always giving off an airy, head-in-the-clouds kind of feel.
Not only are the melodies sunny, but practically everything about the album gives off an optimistic presence. Hi-hats skitter along each track while the light rhythmic drums lay down a danceable shuffle. Add some beautiful vocal performances like on the track “She Sleeps,” and you have yourself one heck of a feel-good album.
The first half of the album follows a similar formula without ever feeling stale. The single “Straight & Arrow” has probably the tightest groove of the whole album (along with some of FaltyDL’s signature pitched vocals), while “Uncea” gets a little spacey with its repeated, mesmerizing synth tones and heavier bass. Halfway through, FaltyDL does experiment a bit with the overly repetitive tune “Finally Some S***/ The Rain Stops” and the funky, old-school sounding “Kenny Rolls One,” but returns to form with the last three songs.
These last few songs really stand out on the album due to their added sense of urgency, but never sound too dark. In fact, the songs keep the sunny attitude; they just tend to give the end of the album a more epic feel, like on the track “Re Assimilate,” in which a holy-chanting vocal loop is put over a “jungly” beat that sounds like it could have been pulled straight from Donkey Kong Country. The effect is as beautiful as it is original and it may just stand as the best tune on the album.
It is these personal touches that make “Hardcourage” a stronger outing than his earlier work. Having already established himself to be able to put down a solid beat, FaltyDL is now ready to really push some original ideas into his music. Whether this album can be defined as “garage” doesn’t really matter. Yes, there is much less of a garage element than his older material but the influence is still there. What does matter is that this is a great outing by one of the most skilled producers in the genre right now, and it is simply just a fun album to listen to. Sunny, bright, and groovy; “Hardcourge” might just be the electronic album to get you through the February cold.
Niall Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.