Doldrums wouldn't be my first choice of word with which to associate the musical stylings of 23-year-old Canadian producer Airick Woodhead. For one, the sample-driven experimental pop on Lesser Evil is about as far away from dull, drowsy low-spiritedness as I can imagine. If anything, the record's the complete antithesis of the state of being 'down in the doldrums'; comprising an energising visceral thrill that grips you by the throat and refuses to let go until the journey through Woodhead's fragmented psychedelic soundscapes is over. It's perhaps appropriate then, that Airick's moniker is inspired by fantastical children's novel The Phantom Tollbooth rather than the dictionary definition of the term.
Created by the light of the cracked screen of a Mac (featured on the album's artwork) borrowed from friend and fellow Montreal-dwelling electronic creative Grimes, Lesser Evil quite literally forms an exploration of the point at which technology begins to break down. Woodhead's muted lonely cries on 'Intro' give way to the thumping drumbeat of 'Anomaly', shifting perspective from a growing ambient opener to the subtly unsettling track that sets the tone for the rest of the record. Layers of reverberating noise, wavering bass and glitchy production fail to shackle the anthemic beat into which Woodhead's bouncing yet melancholic vocals inject a disturbingly hypnotic sense of purpose and drive. It's a veritable tumble down the rabbit hole, and though it feels acutely strange and almost riddled with contradiction, it's utterly compelling.
We reach our breaking point of overstimulated fury early on; 'She Is The Wave' is where it becomes rather evident that Lesser Evil is a difficult record. Where frenzied blips begin to pit themselves against intense firing samples to produce an overwhelmingly disorienting blanket of noise, the regular listener will likely be repelled. It's rather jarring and quite possibly the last point at which you can revert to the comfort of normality via the blue pill. But it's worth persevering through. Not only is it strongly evocative of the sense of exhilarating uncertainty that makes this an irresistibly intoxicating record, but its audacity in aggressively challenging the listener early on smoothes the path for later greater reward.
The marriage of ingenuity and noise core with more conventional dance elements is where the record finds its highlights. Experimentation continues throughout the record, but later on fails to have the same unsettling effects, which leads to the appreciation of some uniquely stunning moments. Such as the dreamy spaced-out 'Egypt', where Woodhead's androgynous vocals glide over a synthesised marimba melody layered with the usual noise trappings, resulting in an exotic pop track effortlessly dripping with style. Or the otherworldly 'Live Forever', where synthesisers combine expertly with pitch-distorted samples to forge a melody that seems capable of making intergalactic transportation possible. Despite approaching the crafting of Lesser Evil from the leftfield, Woodhead clearly hasn't suppressed any pop sensibilities.
It would be unfair to paint Lesser Evil as being primarily experimental. It's irrevocably so, but its scope encompasses so much more. Although concerned with testing the ultimate thresholds of technology, it gets down to crafting sumptuous pop melodies from a cocktail of noise, samples and synthesisers. Airick Woodhead has meaningfully engaged with seemingly distinct concerns yet produced an uncompromising cohesive record that stands as testament to his creativity and ingenuity. Lesser Evil ultimately comprises a raw thrill that excites just as much as it challenges, firmly placing Woodhead as an exciting talent, not just with regards to Montreal, but anywhere.