I mean, the title says it all really. Now London-based but originally from Wolverhampton, the enigmatic and incredibly talented producer Actress has released some of my favourite music over the last decade or so. I’ve been a fan of his ever since his 2008 debut Hazyville. It was a mystic, dark and utterly mesmeric take on drum-heavy electronic and house music and was something I was immediately drawn to. Twelve years later, and he is still releasing exceptional music. He is back with a a brand new album titled Karma & Desire, and upon first listen, I can safely say that this is up there with some of his best ever work.
It’s such a dense, yet atmospheric and incredibly varied body of work that perfectly captures a lot of the moods and feelings I have been feeling this year. With 17 tracks and clocking in at 1 hour 8 minutes, it might be a demanding listen for some, but trust me, the rewards are all there. It’s a dark yet lush project that brings the balance between angst and serenity beautifully. The opener “Fire and Light” features gorgeous keys that bring an angelic and mesmeric tone to the album, and with the accompanying synth leads, sounds grandiose and incredibly poignant. The darker, rhythmic “Angels Pharmacy” featuring Zsela is hypnotic in sound, and the desolate, deeply woozy synths of “Remembrance” is truly special. Zsela’s vocal contributions on both tracks are incredible as she tells a story with her hypnotic and utterly gorgeous voice. The heaviness of “Leaves Against The Sky” is one of my favourites on the album, as the pulsating beat and groove brings a sense of urgency, and as the track progresses, it blossoms into this textured, melodic and memorable moment on the album. The desolate and dystopian sound of “Save” sounds haunting, a reflection if this year in an oddly poetic way. The way Actress uses Sampha’s incredible voice is perfect. On “VVY”, the piano-led piece interlocks with his voice perfectly, and on the 8-minute stunner “Many Seas, Many Rivers”, he the stark contrast between the eerie piano-melody and the subdued synth leads makes for a stunning listen. Sampha’s vocals are interlocked with the track, giving an unsettling tone that carries such heaviness. “Loveless” featuring Aura T-09 is a dynamic, groovy track that captures the dancier side to his music. Other incredible tracks include the stunning piano piece of “Public Life” featuring Vanessa Benell, with it’s hypnotic and incredibly beautiful piano-piece, while “Loose” featuring Christel Well” is a colourul, dynamic and frantic dance track that captures a lighter, more euphoric side to his music. “Turin” similarly carries a hypnotic, dance-heavy groove, that pulsates and brings this bass-heavy rhythm that just sounds flawless. It’s another one of my favourite tracks on the album, and it’s a testament to his versatility as a musician. The jittery electronic effects and notes on “Diamond X” are also fantastic, while the closer and lead single “Walking Flames” is a beautifully reflective track featuring another hypnotic Sampha feature. His vocals are interlocked with the textured and lavish instrumental.
It’s rare to experience a project that so potently and poetically captures the mood and experiences I’ve felt this year. The sonic palate and soundscapes that Actress created throughout Karma & Desire are truly sublime. It’s a true sonic representation of the dystopian reality of this year, and it’s a project I will definitely have on repeat for a while. Go support this incredible album!