On first impression alone Ask the Dust didn’t necessarily strike me as a huge leap forward for Lorn. I wasn’t exactly disappointed, but considering that the Ninja Tune press release said that this album represented Lorn distancing himself from the cold strictness of his earlier work, I was expecting him to have stepped out of the murky shadows into a glorious dark matter explosion of towering beats and massive planet destroying synths. There’s probably a valuable lesson in not establishing unfounded preconceptions to be learned here.
Anyway, now the dust has settled I will gladly put my hand up and admit I was wrong, massively so. The expansion and progression evident on this album is incredibly significant, just not as ostentatious as anticipated. In the time-honoured tradition of good musicians Lorn has developed the excellent ground works that he laid with his Brainfeeder debut to craft something that pushes the boundaries of his sound without selling out or re-treading old ground. Everything is tauter, meaner and harder, more outspoken yet somehow still brooding and restrained.
You couldn’t exactly call it colourful, but it’s as though the palette has changed from rigid black and white lines to dense sepia layers and richer tones besides. An excellent example being how, due to its staunch rigidity, Nothing Else necessitated splashes of colour from “Gold and Silver” and “Cherry Moon” so as provide some levity and breathing space–whereas this time around there’s no need for such concessions as the assembled tracks are rich enough without them. This isn’t intended as a slight to his debut, I was a huge fan of the album and those tracks in particular, but it demonstrates an intimidating level of focus and confidence in moving forwards.
The haunting vocals that drew Nothing Else to such a powerful close on “What’s the use” have risen to the surface on a number of tracks and punctuate the album with a more coherent narrative this time around, although they remain sparse enough as to not dominate the music itself. A particularly notable example is “Weigh me Down” where the murmured, growling refrains add to the claustrophobic weight of the track, creating an unsettling atmosphere of choking density.
Elsewhere the searing intensity of “Diamond” ties stabbing, trance synths to staggered beats to devastating effect, and “Everything is Violence” delivers everything that its title promises, rumbling menacingly as it stalks forwards on an inexorable path of destruction. If I had to find a flaw it would be tracks like “Chhurch” that don’t completely break the mould of his earlier work, but it’s only due to the strength of the rest of the album that this is even apparent. All said there really isn’t any fault to find here and considering how much the game has changed since Lorn first reared his menacing, scowling head, this album is every bit as groundbreaking and refreshing as the one it succeeds.