[Souterrain Transmissions, 2013]
Jeff Pearson, February 26, 2013
As a single, Doldrums’ “Egypt” was a stunning introduction to a bright young mind in electronic music. Montreal’s Airick Woodhead put forth the track last year as part of an EP of the same name, meant to build hype for his debut full-length on Souterrain Transmission. It accomplished in six minutes what many producers strive to touch upon over the sprawl of a record; Woodhead’s eerie falsetto shifts rapidly from serene to somewhat menacingly processed and filtered, tribal drums coexist with sharp synthesizers, and atmospheric presence plays just as big of a role as its body music tendencies. The track seemed like the perfect storm of contrasting elements, blending to make a wholly cohesive statement. The past and the future, the dusty African savannah and the sleek, neon-lit corridor, the harmonious with the jarringly dissonant.
As the centerpiece for that full-length debut LP, however, is when “Egypt” really begins to make the most sense. Everything on Lesser Evil seems to flow through it, splinter off of the propulsive track as it colors how the rest of the record will play out. It serves as the center for energy, with those tracks closest to it benefiting from its direction and vast amount of ground covered. The synthesizers on “Live Forever” seem to flower from the same earthen rhythms, like a beautiful desert sage, once again gaining the unique perspective of an organic being with digital innards, while “Holographic Sandcastles” sees Woodhead and guest vocalist Sami Bianco weave their voices around one another, never retaining a human quality too long before letting the ever-looming futurism take hold of them and carry them off to some new reaches. That’s really the element of Lesser Evil that most carries over from that early single; Doldrums is a project that is consistently focused on movement and progression, and Woodhead seems to thrive on contrasting elements bleeding into one another to create an identity all his own.
Much of that urge for pushing the boundaries as to what two wildly different elements can be pressed together to form a cohesive piece of art comes from Woodhead’s time spent in his hometown of Toronto. He told Pitchfork he was living in an artistic commune of sorts, throwing shows to pay the rent; it was a place where artists of many styles would come together to play, and he said that, “There would be like 300 people dancing, and the noise musicians who lived here would usually do a set. A really interesting cross-genre pollination happened, because the noise people were playing alongside a lot of dance people. That’s where I take my most influence.” It’s plainly evident that this experience had the most profound effect on Lesser Evil; it’s a fascinating amalgamation of those two distinct styles, and one in which he is constantly honing on the record. Perhaps the most direct example of Woodhead’s ability to unnerve the listener while somehow willing them to dance is on “She Is The Wave.” The Guy Dallas-aided track feels otherworldly as its dub-leaning rhythm is perpetually pierced with grating noise. It strikes a battle of conscious within the listener; it’s unclear at any given point if you should take cover or dance like the circuit-bending bombs dropping on the track will wipe you out no matter what.
The other thing Woodhead seems to have taken away from that time spent in Toronto is the sense of community; the record features guest vocalists on two tracks, and was recorded entirely on his pal Grimes’ laptop (which reportedly was broken, though it is unclear whether it was structurally or internally). You get the sense that influence streams through Woodhead in his interactions with people and that each one of those interactions colors the tiniest piece of his music. Community is very important to him, and the collection of like-minded individuals that he had cultivated in Toronto is evident even in his lyrics. Lesser Evil is loosely tied together with the lyrical theme of group experimentation, of a new form of thought where we can meet in our dreams and interact in that way, and the ethereal quality of the record shows that maybe we really aren’t that far off.
The most enthralling storyline of Lesser Evil really is the limitless potential. The fact that Woodhead is so unafraid of taking risks and letting things play out as they may is a rare quality in a producer–at the very least, the level at which he is willing to take risks is a rare quality. Even as Woodhead proclaims in tantric repetition on “Egypt,” “Now I’m over the edge,” we are still left with a twinge of doubt that he is even close to reaching that edge of creativity. We’ll be there when he decides to take the leap, ready to see where we all land.