To many, there comes a certain alienation when it comes to electronic music. Given that we often look to see ourselves in the art we consume, I’ve found that perhaps the largest driving force pushing people away from the genre is the difficulty in internalizing the sounds emanating from one’s speakers or headphones, as they are typically and characteristically foreign, unfamiliar, or even peculiar. Combining this with the cloud of anxiety that surrounds the future of technology in our society, specifically that of AI, it seems that the various sub-genres of the electronic field are constantly redefining themselves, pushing closer and closer to the realm of what is known while simultaneously retaining certain qualities which are inherently unexplored. Those who succeed push themselves to alter the very nature of their craft, the result of which being an honest synthesis between the creator and their tools.

Darren Cunningham, aka Actress aka AZD aka the dude who touched lofi far before it was cool, has, in my opinion, put forth the most intriguing project of the year thus far in his birthing of Young Paint. YP is more than just a new moniker for the British electro god, however; as indicated by the press release, we’re told that “Young Paint (aka Jade Soulform aka Francis aka Generation 4 aka AZD) is a Learning Program that has been progressively emulating the Greyscale to Silvertone process Darren J. Cunningham started during the recording of the Hazyville LP on Werkdiscs in 2008.” Upon reading this, I was shocked— don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware of the Werk__Ltd. label boss’ nature to utilize technology in innovative, creatively groundbreaking ways, such as his decision to build a robot out of dated technology which he used to craft his 2017 LP AZD. However, his LAGEOS project, in which Cunningham collaborated with the London Contemporary Orchestra, which I think we can all agree is far from a robot, is still fresh in my mind. All three of these projects— AZD, LAGEOS, and Young Paint— make perfect sense on their own given Cunningham’s unorthodox sound and compositional techniques, however what strikes me as so bewildering is the sequence between the three. Conceptualizing the difference in workflow between the three projects alone is enough to recognize the versatility of Cunningham as both an artist and a thinker (which he proves are often one and the same).

Acknowledging the anomalistic nature of the project, Young Paint does undeniably sound like an Actress record. Just fifteen seconds into the A1, 'Travel Paint', and there’s no mistaking who made the record— there’s honestly no one else it could be. Cunningham’s sound is one of the most recognizable in electronic music, with his proclivity toward eerie, almost unsettling melodies, distinctly textured drum patterns, and thick, almost sludgy synth tones. On the A2, 'Neutral Paint', we’re greeted with a straight 4/4 kick pattern resting below a freely floating, hypnotically simple arp. loop accompanied by some grittily processed drum machines and wandering white noise. Immediately after, we’re given 'Boy Paint', another track beautifully enveloped by white noise and saturated synth patterns. Even more than before, these pieces sound less like a collection of songs and more like an invitation to a distant yet familiar universe. Actress, through Young Paint, sketches a new world that’s easy to get lost in.

Whereas the first four tracks lulled me into a trance, the last two had me dancing my way out. The B side of Young Paint serves as a proper response to the A side with its more aggressive percussion and brighter melodic elements. The groovy 'Ai Paint' gives us punchy drum arrangements, flickering hats, and dreamy synth sequences. “Kat Paint” employs a nomadic piano progression drifting over 1/16th hats and pulsating snares. Each element seems to speak to one another in a curiously blissful manner, almost as if Cunningham sought to seek a dialogue between each musical component.

If Cunningham follows through with his plan to continue training his AI sprite, I’m excited not only for the music that results but also the impact it has on the industry. Regardless of what happens, however, I can confidently say that Young Paint is an unparalleled first step.