Lesser Evil

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Montreal electronic producer Airick Woodhead's songs as Doldrums find a glimmering patchwork of electronic hybrids and wild combinations on his full-length debut Lesser Evil. Following a series of less traditional outlets for the release of his music (including a VHS video compilation, not exactly the most popular medium for distribution at the time of its 2010 release), Lesser Evil feels like the crystallization of Doldrums' body of work, centralizing all of the random tracks and unfinished thoughts into one cohesive, accessible part. After the scattershot "Fantasia Intro," Doldrums' approach snaps into focus with the stand-out track "Anomaly." A pulsing beat competes with fragmented samples of Woodhead's unhinged vocals, creating an atmosphere as brooding as it is playful. Somewhere between early-'90s club production à la the Pet Shop Boys and the woozy, cough-syrup electronics that are decidedly the product of kids who grew up with the internet, Doldrums finds its sound. Bleakness and desperation are in almost every line, but it comes with the flippant knowledge that every pain and joy will be almost immediately forgotten. The relentless ADD buzz of "She Is the Wave" reinforces this, with a blinding glut of distorted, technicolor samples informed by both chiptunes mania and the nauseated, psychedelic gutter-draggings of Black Dice. Woodhead somehow manages to sing with connective thoughtfulness over this din of stimuli, which quickly disappears into "Sunrise," a relatively gentler slice of summery sadness. The weird collage of contradictory sounds and sharp contrasts that makes up Lesser Evil ultimately compresses into a singular expression of Woodhead's unique sonic personality. With no shortage of jarring sounds, abrupt endings, and seemingly impossible combinations, it's hard to take the music in as anything besides a direct reflection of the oddly captivating person making it. Much like his contemporary Grimes' breakthrough moments on Visions or, going further back, the earliest Burial tracks, or further back still, the 1981 Eno/Byrne collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Lesser Evil is a brilliantly disjointed affair, getting by on raw imagination and openness to the unfathomable. Strangely, it's hard to see the less successful moments of this approach as failures. The trancy album centerpiece "Egypt" rides a busy rhythm of glitches, overflowing with gurgly samples and barely holding on to an almost Jane's Addiction-like vocal melody. It's not pretty and shouldn't work, but the constant mismatch of elements in songs like this somehow resonate as transfixing and beautiful in their messy weirdness. It's a rare accomplishment to squeeze clarity out of utter confusion and navigate chaos with control rather than abandon, but that's exactly what Lesser Evil is all about. The density of the album might take a while to sink into, but its catchiness will keep the listener returning to try to crack the code. Eventually, you'll realize there's no way to completely understand this mesmerizing mess, but that doesn't make it any less fun to keep trying to.