In approaching Ghettoville, I would advise you to forget pigeonholing because the near-obsessive classification of subgenres in electronic music (of which new variations seem to constantly pop up) is futile on this occasion.
UK producer Actress has morphed his approach so relentlessly that the only thing you can classify this music as is the catch-all “electronic.” More than ever before, Actress seems to take an almost-belligerent approach to dance music, and Ghettoville is the sound of deconstruction and decay. It is less a step back from his acclaimed album RIP and more a step towards the shadows. If you’re looking for dance floor fillers, you may as well stop reading.
Ghettoville is the definition of a challenging piece of work, something evidenced by its opening two tracks, which are about as unwelcoming an opening to an album as you could imagine. “Forgiven” is built around incessant metallic percussion that is nevertheless muted and drone-like. It constantly threatens to burst open yet stubbornly refuses to do so. “Street Corp” is closer to the kind of twilight hour music practiced by the likes of Burial, but again, its beat is twitchy and nervous, crackling in the background and always feeling like it’s slightly off line. Together the two songs form a somewhat startling and uncomfortable beginning to the album, and despite the songs containing their own appeal, some listeners may not have the patience to progress beyond this.
That would be a shame as the album rewards patience and attention. It also drops some of that hostility to snake its way through various genres. “Our” has a warmer tone that maintains the album’s eccentricity without sacrificing an emotional connection with the listener. “Birdcage” flirts with house music earlier in the album before “Gaze” and “Skyline” provide something approaching genuine house music later on. Those two tracks are a summary of the album in microcosm. The former combines several tangential elements into a cohesive whole, and the latter transforms into minimal, hazy house before collapsing in on itself.
Elsewhere Ghettoville flirts with hip hop (most memorably on the comparatively slinky “Rims”) and even R&B with a couple of shorter tracks towards the end. Actress has stated that he believes this will be his swan song, and there is something quietly apocalyptic about his approach here. It is a complex contradiction of an album, a constant tug of war between light and darkness in which darkness seizes the day, and its length and fiercely introspective nature make Ghettoville both formidable and intimidating.
In the end, it might be that Actress’s single mindedness is something of an Achilles heel in that 70 minutes of this music is an awful lot to take in one sitting. It is an undertaking for sure, and one from a creator who is almost willingly obtuse at times. This does make the shoots of humanity more impactful when they do arrive, though, and Actress’s willingness to explore such terrain as far as he does is commendable. He is the kind of artist who wills you to champion him for innovation even as he has declared this album to be his final work (under the Actress moniker at least). As such, I would recommend dipping your toes in Ghettoville, an album that is a fitting addition to the Ninja Tune catalog. Just don’t be too surprised to find the waters are frigid.
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