The Gaslamp Killer - Breakthrough

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Breakthrough is the The Gaslamp Killer’s first full-length album, and with label head Flying Lotus in close support he’s brought something completely insane to the table. His own press described this album as “a manic and mystic trip through the mind of a madman”, and that should be a tip-off to the intensity unleashed in Breakthrough. A resident DJ at LA’s Low End Theory club night, The Gaslamp Killer has a high tempo, frenetic energy that’s exciting but almost disengaging. In the same way Frank Zappa can be good in small doses and the lunatic on the street is funny for a meet and greet, the full 47 minutes of this album becomes a bit wearing.

This is not to say it’s not enjoyable. With a fantastic cast of supporting characters from Daedelus (himself no stranger to bringing the insanity to the long play format) to Samiyam, there’s certainly plenty of quality here. Veins, which features the vocal talents of Gonjasufi, is the first track proper and one of the most accessible: a moody, atmospheric beat driven piece with orchestra overtones and Gonjasufi’s heart-rending vocals. This is followed up by Holy Mt Washington where a massive beat and crash tempo is set up too slow to be dance and too fast for relaxed, buzzing chords setting a melody, human whistling giving it a lost in an alleyway feel. Next is Father, with Spanish language samples ripped and stretched and a general cacophony of mayhem that explodes in to experimental music and disappears in to the sitar intro for Critic.

These are short tracks, and sweet too in their way – influenced by, well, everything as far as I can tell. It’s a gritty take on the world of music. Apparitions with Daedelus, surprisingly, is one of the most consistent and personable tracks with a clear lyrical narrative, Ethiopiques-style stylings and a track length approaching a single length (as opposed many of the tracks which are short vignettes of music). Follow it up with Impulse however, and it’s like listening to the sound of a handful of old computers being thrown into a garbage truck without being switched off.

If you’ve made it this far in the album, chances are you’re engaged and are not going to turn it off, which is good because next up comes my very favourite track, the provocatively titled Peasants, Cripples & Retards featuring Samiyam. Heavy bass, distortion, beeps, wheebles, craziness, samples. This is a nightmare version of DJ Shadow, a tune so insanely catchy and listenable that its instability makes you doubt yourself. It’s an audio epileptic fit.

I’ll also mention Seven Years of Bad Luck For Fun featuring Dimlite, which has one of the most confronting drops I’ve ever heard, like an alien alarm clock going off and utilising stereo to make you not only mentally but actually a bit physically uneasy. Clever, not least because it’s listenable.

Throughout this album there’s a theme of tune within tune, not dissimilar to the sort of tune creation achieved through scratching, and no surprise from a turntablist of Gaslamp’s calibre. Then there’s the secret track, almost Cinematic Orchestra with horns that start to turn in to something else – only for the album to end. A nice cliffhanger.

What to say then about this album as a whole? I liked it. Not a lot, but I liked it. There were parts where I loved it and parts where I found its conceit a little tedious. The sense of listening to Gaslamp creating his first album and trying to make himself heard was a little confused by the sheer variety of sounds and influences. I guess the takeaway is that his sound, in content, is varied, mixed and eclectic. In production, on the other hand, there’s not many times when the techniques and ways he presents his influences are new and interesting. He’s not the first sample-loving DJ to create a melting pot of his favourite sounds.

What does stand him apart, however, is the imagination he shows when conjoining influences and sounds. Apparitions summed it up best for me, with its clear identity that was something fresh and new, despite being created out of the existing musical landscape.

7/10 stars

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