The Gaslamp Killer - Breakthrough
It’s almost hard to believe that Breakthrough, The Gaslamp Killer’s latest release on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint, is his debut solo full-length. It’s hard to believe because his smoke obscured, heavy-lidded presence has loomed so large in and amongst the jostling huddle of unique and incredibly talented producers within and associated with the Brainfeeder camp for so long. This is, after all, a man who co-founded Low End Theory, L.A.’s near-mythic club night that seems like something of a hub for the kind of forward thinking beat music that Gaslamp and his friends, (Fly-Lo, Daedelus, SAMIYAM) create.
But it is his debut solo full-length, and with it he weaves a loosely knit but well-fitted tapestry of drunkenly stumbling drum patterns, buzzsaw bass melodies, glitched up synths and Eastern musical flourishes. Though it may be his first solo album, this isn’t Gaslamp Killer’s first top-to-bottom production job; he created the backdrop for Gonjasufi’s marvellous 2010 release A Sufi and a Killer, and the same sticky finger prints that coloured that record can be found smudged all over Breakthrough. It’s a very different beast; more focused on bass and beats and with as much in common with, say, SAMIYAM’s Sam Baker’s Album as with Gonjasufi’s vocally focused debut, but covered in the same dust.
Both of those guys show up on the album, and their contributions demonstrate the vast stylistic gulfs that it manages to straddle. The tracks that come equipped with Gonjasufi’s trademark damaged croons, (the striking, string-led “Veins” and the gentler meditation of “Apparitions”), unsurprisingly recall the two’s previous work together. SAMIYAM’s feature though, the unapologetically rough around the edges “Peasants, Cripples and Retards”, is something altogether different, consisting of little more than the pair of producers toying with the pitch and sound of a punishing bassline that manages to be hooky and carry the track melodically despite its overarching aggressive tone. A similar trick is pulled on the Computer Jay featuring “Holy Mt Washington”, in which a lush cushion of synths and whistles almost feels, despite its brilliance, like little more than a bed in which the syrupy, hypnotic bassline can nuzzle and repeat itself endlessly into oblivion.
The record is only about 47 minutes long, but the man at the helm certainly manages to pack an awful lot in: elsewhere, he veers into sci-fi hip-hop inflected madness on the Dimlite assisted “Seven Years of Bad Luck For Fun” just minutes after the beautiful, light-footed and melodic “Nissim” reveals itself to be a late-game moment of transcendence as well as the album’s fullest embrace of The Gaslamp Killer’s persistent Eastern influence.
At points throughout the record’s running time, these disparate stylistic reference points are brought together, as on the stunning “Flange Face”, whereupon cutting drum beats and monolithic bass rub grubby shoulders with majestic live strings. Even when they aren’t brought together so closely though, these combinations of sounds still say a great deal about what makes Breakthrough such a rewarding listen and such a compellingly re-listenable debut. First and foremost is its staggering quality, yes: but beyond that, it’s the fact that this quality extends to such varied sonic corners. The Gaslamp Killer tries his hand at so much here, and yet doesn’t seem to slip into aimless experimentation, never seems more adept at any one style than another one. It’s this overarching quality that allows the album to hang together so perfectly despite its abundance of styles, and the same quality that makes it one of the best electronic albums released in recent memory.