Joker

The Vision

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After a dozen-plus 12” singles and EPs on revered underground dance labels like Tectonic and Hyperdub, and the Joker-centric Kapsize, Liam McLean lands on 4AD, where he seizes the full-length format. Prior to The Vision, McLean amassed a body of bloody-minded output that toggled between immense and ominous, from modern electronic funk (“Purple City,” recorded with fellow Bristolian Ginz) to sparse and booming hip-hop (“Snake Eater”). His best moment was 2009’s “Psychedelic Runway,” a widescreen combination of prowling beats, lancing synthesizers, and numerous horror-theme elements seemingly constructed for the purpose of devouring any pop radio playlist. While it required only slight modifications to his approach -- brighter tones and simpler arrangements, allowing room for singers and MCs -- it’s still surprising that much of The Vision sounds like an effort to assimilate into commercial airwaves. The vocal collaborations are, for the most part, a muddled experiment. This is especially true during the latter half, involving a variety of rapped verses and sung hooks that sound more like distractions than enhancements. The title track, however, is pulled off brilliantly due to a vocalist -- the soul-rooted Jessie Ware -- commanding and skilled enough to navigate one of McLean’s most vibrant and dynamic productions. Otherwise, the most effective tracks are the instrumentals: “Milky Way,” “My Trance Girl,” and the 2010 A-side “Tron.” Each one carries swashbuckling synthesizer lines so heavy that they can be felt, through a decent sound system, in the chest.

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