Review: FaltyDL – Hardcourage LP

If the titles of his last two albums are any indication Drew Lustman, aka FaltyDL, is a guy who is a little skeptical of love. 2009’s “Love is a Liability” and 2011’s “You Stand Uncertain” give you the feeling that FaltyDL might have an uneasy aversion to “the L word”. Don’t even get us started with his “Mean Streets” series for Swamp 81. Having crafted a reputation as one of the most consistent US producers of electronic music and as a purveyor of everything from hip-hop and jungle to garage, maybe that emotional hard man vibe isn’t such a bad look for him. It’s certainly helped to create a few classics, namely “Hip Love” and “My Friends Will Always Say.” Fourteen months, two singles, a video and an EP since his last effort, “Hardcourage” has finally been released.

The road to Lustman’s third album, whose title means “having the courage to carry on when things are in limbo,”  has indeed been a long one. It also seems as though a few peculiar things happened along the way. Since making the jump from Planet Mu to the larger Ninja Tune, Lustman also started his own label, Blueberry Records, which co-released the album. Hardcourage also got delayed a few months for “a few final tracklisting adjustments” according to Lustman in a July interview with Benji B.  Strangely enough, the album’s lead single didn’t even make the final tracklist. In that same Benji B interview, we’re let in on the most peculiar thing of all, which is that Lustman fell in love. Despite obvious frustration in his voice from the release pushbacks, he sounds giddy with excitement as he proclaims, “I have a muse. You’ve gotta have one.” It’s a wonderfully powerful feeling and no doubt has re-vectored Lustman’s creative output.

Stream: FaltyDL – For Karme (Ninja Tune)

With the opening track “Stay I’ve Changed,” Lustman has no problem coming right out and saying it then. A slow builder that coaxes the listener in, it offers a glimpse of what’s to come. Instead of staying within the familiar garage template that he has proved so adept at, Hardcourage sees the producer moving more towards the fuzzy, analog sounds reminiscent of early Boards of Canada. That’s not to say that he’s dropped the trademark vocal samples and shuffling hi-hats, they’re just a bit less frequent.  Cozy songs full of reverb like “She Sleeps” featuring Ed Macfarlane of Friendly Fires, which might have sounded a bit out of place on previous albums, feel right at home alongside more dance floor-oriented tunes such as “Straight & Arrow.” It’s a delicate balance that Lustman has executed perfectly here, creating an album that seems just as effective under the glow of a disco ball as it does on a crisp, winter day’s walk. We had our doubts about the former but since having the chance to see him play the album live, they have been all but erased.

The album’s emotional high point comes about halfway through in the form of “For Karme,” an aptly named love proclamation. Tingling bells and warm synths give way to a bone-shaking drum track with skittering hi-hats and as the bass drops out halfway through, you can’t help but fall in love right along with Lustman for a second. Those fleeting moments where the producer lets down his guard and offers his vulnerable side are where he truly shines. Maybe Lustman sees a bit of Bruce Willis’ character in himself, or maybe he just really likes the Fifth Element, as another such moment comes in the form of “Korben Dallas.” This time a vocal sample, 808 percussion and a cascading synth track quickly intertwine only to slowly disintegrate again. In the Fifth Element, emotional hard man Dallas falls in love with Leoloo and ends up saving the universe from a very scary alien race.  And while Lustman hasn’t exactly saved the planet or anything, he has fallen in love and “Hardcourage” remains quite special for that.

Over the course of the album, it’s hard to not recognize a producer growing more and more comfortable in his own skin. This is the same producer that has spent the last few years dabbling in a fair number of styles but never really settled on one. Not to say that he’s settled down here by any means, but what’s absent is the certain wandering feeling present in his past two efforts. Each track feels well calculated and part of a whole. In spite of all the push backs, the extra time taken has clearly done Lustman well. We’re just glad he had the hardcourage to do it.

FaltyDL’s Hardcourage is available now via Ninja Tune.

Stream: FaltyDL – She Sleeps (Ninja Tune)

Tim Willis

In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country, twitter @timwill_is, personal: