Album Review: Hudson Mohawke, ‘Lantern’
Hudson Mohawke knows how to make an impression: few producers have earned as many accolades for less than 16 minutes of music. The contours of his story will be familiar to many at this point – working with another producer, Lunice, under the name TNGHT, Mohawke released a five-song EP that seemed to soundtrack a party taking place as the world came to an end. This music reveled in its own power, and it helped push pop toward new levels of bombast.
That EP also benefitted from timing, arriving just as the blend of electronic music and hip-hop production blasted into mainstream popularity. (It’s important to note that Hudmo wasn’t the only influential producer in this regard – someone like Mike Will Made It, who managed a stream of hits with a gleaming, explosive sound, arguably had a bigger impact.) Kanye West, who always keeps his ear to the ground, came calling. As a result, Mohawke assisted on Yeezus and landed on the rapper’s G.O.O.D. music imprint.
Now, Mohawke is releasing Lantern, his first solo full-length since 2009’s Butter, and he’s audibly torn about his post-TNGHT reputation. The album opens with more than a minute of noise and flute samples. Is the producer just waiting to drop the Big Beat? Nope: The song meanders and fades. Mohawke seems to say, if you want to turn up, turn elsewhere.
But not really – his defiance is limited. Half the album consists of collaborations with singers: Irfane, known for his work with the French producer Breakbot, Miguel and Jhene Aiko, who represent the world of commercial R&B, and Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) for the indie-heads. Most of these partnerships are fruitless. Irfane and Aiko show little character, while Miguel sounds somehow both self-indulgent and uninterested. Antony is the only one to hold his own on “Indian Steps,” a song as creepy as it is lovelorn.
Take out the vocal tracks on Lantern, and you have a short release with some of the same power as TNGHT, but more range. (TNGHT was a one-note project, sacrificing variety in order to become the audible equivalent of a battering ram.) “Scud Books” plays as an updated version of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, conveying the wild jubilation of new discovery in its clapping beat. On “Shadows,” it sounds like Mohawke heard a track from the PC Music label – thin, bright, high-pitched, gushy – and made it his mission to improve their formula. “System,” full of raw electronic fury, may be the closest to a TNGHT song.
Everything builds toward a drop, but suddenly the track bounds left at a low frequency – unpredictable, and unlike many of the vocal collaborations, exhilarating.