The debut album from Lasertom covers a number of bases, skating between disco, propulsive funk and electronica both fromidably rhythmic and ambitiously atmospheric. However, Simon Cullen’s debut album retains a sense of fun that sets it apart from – and perhaps slightly below – the likes of I Am the Cosmos’ Monochrome and Solar Bears’ Supermigration, recent Irish dance/instrumental albums that aim to evoke sadness amid industrial strength rhythm and kaleidoscopic grandeur.
Make no mistake, though, the Dubliner wants to nestle in that same “tears on the dancefloor” niche as the former, as typically upbeat strains of dance music are taken and repurposed with an undercurrent of emotional dissatisfaction. This somewhat ironic juxtaposition works especially well on the opening title track, with a bassline as funky and compelling as it is isolated. It sounds slick and is played with great dexterity but it could still soundtrack a Balearic sunrise after a particularly regretful night.
‘Innerspaceman’ continues in much the same vein as the opener. Bubbling synths and skittish high hats stand out against a backdrop of upbeat tropical pop, but are tinged with a sense of regret as Cullen’s vocals come in. The contrast only becomes more apparent as the song opens up, giving way to a would-be euphoric chorus, but the impact and execution are lacking. ‘Surprise’, which sounds like TVOTR’s ‘Shout Me Out’ to begin with, has more success in this regard, with a tizzy of warped synths highlighting its massive climax.
‘All the Time’ sets out what Drift is really all about, and that’s hammering rhythm that grows exponentially stronger and more affecting with every reiteration. The combination of throbbing synths and shuffling percussion is found across the album but unfortunately deployed most ineffectively here on what is a straightforward party track with tacky 80s synths. ‘Maelstrom’, on the other hand, is more restrained; its keys drip with a cool ennui reminiscent of the Drive soundtrack and that whole Italians Do It Better sound and the build is extremely patient. The crux of the song remains unchanged throughout but excitable snippets intrude as they please, kindly accenting its workmanlike repetition.
‘No Play’, the album’s defining moment, best harnesses Lasertom’s talent for slow-building, urging rhythm with his taste for scattershot synths and irresistible funk. It comes together rather wonderfully, tied with a vocal plea of “No play with my heartstrings no more” as the song collapses in on itself and rebuilds once again and feeding into the relaxing ambiance of ‘Note to Self’, a well-placed breather.
The final thirteen minutes holds only two songs but they are both highlights. After ‘No Play’s cacophony of sounds and influences, ‘Call’ is rather more straightforward, hiding a danceable gem beneath the usual persistence before a sharp, five-note synth riff dispels any thought of musical complexity in favour of unthinking joy. Closer ‘Norwegian Pine’, with it descending electronic arpeggios and thick bass synth is altogether more eerie but brings that sense of emotional dissonance back to the fore with an introspective mix of stark and peddling keyboards. It’s a final stretch really defines Drift as an album seeking balance between industrious, skyscraping dance and the inner tumult such aural constructions try to hide, even if Cullen is at his very best when the two are not mutually exclusive.