The worst album of 2017

Elijah King, Reporter

“AZD” (pronounced acid) is Darran Cunningham’s sixth studio album under the pseudonym Actress. The announcement of “AZD” from Ninja Tune Records was a pleasant surprise. Upon the release of Actress’ 2014 album “Ghettoville”, Cunningham wrote a short suicide note on his personal record label’s website, Werkdiscs, killing off Actress. The end of the note read, “The machines have turned into stone, data reads like an obituary to its user. A fix is no longer a release, it’s a brittle curse. Zero satisfaction, no teeth…” (you can read the note in its entirety here).

Maybe everyone was misinterpreting this as a suicide note for Actress, but instead, it was a suicide note for Actress’s genre-defining way of crafting his deteriorating, worn down music.

The cryptic sound of “Ghettoville” was made to represent a range of sentiments from the physicality and sorrow of addiction, to the dejected state of manufactured materials that were left abandoned and now lack purpose. (Ex. Street Corp.’s six minutes of somber industrial loops) The album was very harsh and challenging to listen to. As every other Actress album, there is a signature low fidelity sound in each song, sort of an electronic ambiance to hold everything together. Though compelling enough to be sonically miserable, it’s somehow enjoyable and tangible for disciplined listeners. It was a great album and was respected as such. Each song’s idea was clear and well executed. “AZD” is everything “Ghettoville” would have been if it wasn’t taken seriously. The pretentious nature of avant-garde and experimental music is truly exploited with “AZD”.

Actress claims he built some big music making machine out of old, broken down instruments (the mega-instrument is also called AZD) while he was high out of his mind. He chose the instruments for AZD purely based off their aesthetics in hopes of the album “sounding” like the way his noise making sculpture looked. Instead of his latest obsession with chrome, after listening all the way through, I assume AZD looked like this. Thank God the album’s opener was just a few seconds shy of one minute. This track resembles both the sound and feeling of a sink that has gone leaky in the middle of the night. Each drip forces the debate of getting up and turning the faucet or dealing with the unbearable noise. Except “Nimbus” forces the debate of skipping to the next track, or powering through the next few seconds of drip torture. The next track, “Untitled 7”, is equally underwhelming. It’s just a simple five-note ascending scale looped over and over and over for 5 minutes with the occasional generic house beat.

The album starts to gain much-needed momentum with the Huerco S-esque track “Fantasynth”. Although it’s just another loop of 8 bars repeated for five minutes, it sounds like you’re listening to two songs at once. This concept is compelling enough to keep the listener’s attention, as the powerhouse drums never quite line up with the piano and bass melody. Actress brings back his classic hiss sound with “Blue Window” an important element that acts as the glue to the abstract notes of the track that will continue through the rest of the album. “AZD”’s two flagship tracks “X22RME” and “Dancing in the Smoke” are the highlights of the album. They aren’t boring, they progress and evolve until the end, and there is structure. They’re so good, they don’t fit within the context of this disappointing album.

When all of his acts are boiled away, Actress is making UK dance music, and these two tracks are currently playing in European nightclubs where they belong. Instead of isolating himself through his music, like he tries so hard to do, he should recognize his extroverted tracks as his most honest and enjoyable.

Cunningham has true talent and deserves every ounce of the respect he has in the music world as proven in previous hits like “Lost” “Floating in Ecstasy” and “Rap” etc. He’s dominated experimental, house, and R&B genres, though from this album I wouldn’t understand how. At least the album cover is cool. Maybe he should have killed off Actress after “Ghettoville”. His legacy would have been much more impressive, or maybe I’m just taking him too seriously. Actress. Acid. Chrome. 3/10.