Local Artist Spotlight: Lusine

Local Artist Spotlight, Local Music, Album Reviews
Martin Douglas

Leading up to Upstream Music Fest + Summit, the regionally focused festival happening in Pioneer Square June 1-3 with over 200 acts, KEXP will highlight a series of local artists every week with a short feature on the artist and a few tracks to start with if you're unfamiliar with their work.

Lusine's 2017 album, Sensorimotor, is the sound of a small room alight with twinkling and pulsating flourishes. There is a deeply intimate musical narrative which courses throughout the album, the sound never threatening to bust out of that proverbial small room but instead creating an immersive world in a tight space. The low rumblings of bass, the feather’s touch of polyrhythmic percussion, the grazing of synthesizer sounds and ambient float.

Jeff McIlwain has shown over the course of nearly two decades that he’s just as adept at creating sweeping, grandiose pop-friendly statements as starkly minimalist house, sometimes binding both sounds in his albums with interconnective tissue to emphasize its potential for cohesion. A sound architect of the highest order, McIlwain is very well-known for meticulous vocal manipulation, rendering the human voice as one of the many elements of his works. Sensorimotor, released in his fifteenth year of being a Seattle resident, is no different. In fact, the seamless patchwork here might be his most focused on the larger narrative of album context.

The vocal splicing on “Won’t Forget,” featuring the voice of longtime collaborator Villa Larjosto, is blended and transmogrified to perfectly fit the bright, upbeat vibe of the song. Larjosto’s comforting timbre also appears on “Just a Cloud,” where her verses are chopped and woozy in a way that perfectly fits the pushing forward and pulling back of the staggering synth lines in the background. McIlwain’s wife Sarah makes a (heavily processed) appearance on “Ticking Hands,” which sounds like a long-lost b-side from Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, and Benoit Pioulard’s sonorous croon augments the overcast and throbbing “Witness,” offering the pitch-perfect effect of a lullaby watching a torrential downpour happening outside of the living room window.

In service to the larger sound of the album, the four tracks on the album featuring vocals heightens the power of the record’s instrumental selections. A twinkle and bloom builds and is cleverly ripped away on opener “Canopy,” “Slow Motion” carries a bounce which underscores its bright, fluttering synths. There is a shifting array of tonal moods, from gestating grooves (“The Level,” “Flyaway”) to slightly scrambled ambience (“Chatter”) and cresting waves of drone (“Tropopause”). Closer “The Lift” serves as the bridge between the experimental, sometimes deceptively intimate tone of Sensorimotor and the skyward tone of albums like its predecessor The Waiting Room, intensely danceable with a dark, moody edge. Sensorimotor is an album worthy of its namesake, equally sensory and motor skill-based -- and a document that is equally founded in intimate textures as it is bold rhythms.

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