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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Iglooghost - Clear Tamei EP Music Album Reviews


 On a brightly colored pair of EPs, the UK musician builds upon the fantasy world he introduced on 2017’s Neō Wax Bloom: a cartoon universe characterized by digital As Iglooghost, the British producer Seamus Malliagh has invented an entire fantasy world in which his music is the soundtrack to epic conflict among hypercolor cartoon characters. It's not an entirely novel idea—Gorillaz have played with a similar approach, though to radically different ends: Malliagh seems determined to throw the listener off balance, leaving it unclear how exactly one should meaningfully listen or dance to the music, or even how to engage with its fantastical narrative underpinnings. The tracks themselves are hyperactive, maximalist, and alien in a sharp and craggly kind of way, effervescent and menacing at the same time. Malliagh’s sound palette is both wacky and steely, poppy and industrial. But the most difficult thing to follow in Iglooghost’s music is the abrupt pacing, the unexpected and seemingly illogical buildups and drops, the aggressive rhythms that morph and jolt. Both in sound and composition Malliagh operates in exhausting, extended flurries.overload.

A little less than a year removed from a debut album that introduced Iglooghost’s mythos and aesthetic, Malliagh has returned with a pair of EPs, Clear Tamei and Steel Mogu. On both he’s building upon the same world he introduced on Neō Wax Bloom, one that is fully fleshed out and occupied by fairy gods wearing cone-like hats and sentient bugs that zip across the landscape. The debut “was all based around the fact that the eyes of the god of Mamu had fallen out,” Malliagh recently explained to Fader. “Tamei is him when he’s a baby and training to be a god.”

The video for “Clear Tamei” is the first time Malliagh has been able to throw a bunch of money at the renderings and animations that interlock with his music. Besides the weird folklore, the visual aspect of Iglooghost’s output has always had appealing synesthetic qualities, the zany, ultragloss texture of his designs reflecting the frantic digital excess of his music. If you watch the video after listening to the song, which features Malliagh chant rapping in a mumbled gibberish over a shimmering landscape of pristine synths, the music kind of clicks, shifting the curiosity away from the sound and onto the absurdist world he’s invented.

With five songs each, Clear Tamei and Steel Mogu are bundled but opposing. As the hero’s soundtrack, Clear Tamei is showered in light and delicate electronic sounds that cut through the overwhelming density of Iglooghost’s music. Steel Mogu is dark, oppressive, and unrelenting. The blunt antagonism of the industrial sounds and breakcore rhythms on Steel Mogu, the anti-hero’s EP, are hardly a departure for Iglooghost, but the split release does segment the mood. The operatic trip-hop on Clear Tamei’s “New Vectors” is brimming with synths that creak, thwack, and shoot across the stage like laser beams, but there are also elements that sound like a soaring vocal or lush string section, or maybe the cry of an infant whose vocal chords have been transplanted with a MIDI pad. Steel Mogu doesn’t hint at any such comforts: “Mei Mode” thrashes around with weaponized 808s while “Niteracer” sounds like a whirling glitch. Listening to such dense and unpredictable music can feel both like a productivity-inducing adrenaline rush or a complete diversion.

Increasingly I’m convinced that Malliagh makes the type of music that happens to you, that turns your mind into a passive receptor and resists explication. Still, to listen to Iglooghost’s music is to marvel at and withstand its technical complexity, to be punched by it until you learn how to lean into the blow. At a recent basement show in West Philly, Malliagh’s headlining Iglooghost set was well received, but it also felt out of place on the dancefloor. His change-ups and breakdowns are too unpredictable and audacious to climb into and ride along with rhythmically, and his music is a sensory overload best confronted in headphones. A few days later, at the end of the short tour, he tweeted, “YO SO...I AM BORED OF JUST PRESSIN BUTTONS WHEN I PLAY LIVE” and announced plans to introduce props and giant costumes into his set. It seems like Malliagh has stumbled on something so weird and abrasive musically that he’s trying not just to extend the spectacle but also to interrogate its effects. He is asking of himself the same question he forces on his listeners: What am I supposed to do with this? It’s an exciting problem.

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