To say that Darren Cross is something of a prolific musical chameleon might just be one of the biggest understatements ever spoken in relation to an Australian artist. With the past few years bringing with it albums focused on his standard musical fare, instrumental compositions, and even blissful ambient nostalgia, the mere mention of a new album – surprise-announced just days ago – immediately raised questions about just what the hell is on the way for fans, followers, and friends of Cross.
His fourth solo studio album (that is, separate from his instrumental work as D.C Cross), DISTORDER is described as being centred around the mantra “distorted ideas for distorted times”, with its arrival and creation coinciding with the recent lockdown in Cross’ native Sydney. With most tracks on the record written within the last year, some ideas stretch back far further, with one each written in in 1991 and 2004, and another couple from 2010.
Regardless, Cross found a desire to bring these old songs into his current situation and find these expressions in the current context, with the album collated, mixed, remixed, mastered, and finished in the second week of July, before its arrival in the fourth week. As he explains, “DISTORDER is a spontaneous artistic purge to help deal with the current times.”
From the outset of the record, it’s refreshingly-evident that we aren’t here listening to what has been described as a “lockdown record”. The feelings may be present, however, though its arrival in the midst of such dark times is one that brings with it relief rather than an all-too familiar reminder of the situations we find ourselves in. In fact, DISTORDER is almost the complete opposite, a mesmerisingly unrestrained and optimistic piece of work that provides the musical escape many of us desire.
Opening track “Psychic Scum” is itself enough to help one forget the world we live in. As a bouncy, Air-inspired synth bass pairs with a crystalline melody, Cross’ voice belts out the sort of majestic electro-rock crossover that we’ve come to know and love from him, without once treading old ground.
That said, there is a sense of old ground being tread when it comes to tracks such as “Memory Lanes”, which showcases a fuzzy, nostalgic sound reminiscent of electronic outfits such as Boards of Canada throughout the majority of its atmospheric composition. However, it’s by the end in which we feel like we’re transported back in time to Cross’ past, with explicit comparisons able to be made to his former band Gerling; something which Cross confirms.
“The end of Track Two, ‘Memory Lanes’, is to me, what Gerling would sound like today, which is very sad and thrilling at the same time,” Cross noted in an accompanying press release.
Similar comparisons cane be made through tracks such as “Givin Up?” (which at times feels similar to the likes of Gerling’s classic single “Enter, Spacecapsule”), though the remainder of the album is in fact one which feels like a true breath of fresh air – an escapist’s paradise made, fittingly, within Cross’ own studio utopia.
While tracks such as “Are You S S Are?” provide a mesmerising, almost therapeutic experience thanks to its thumping, repetitive nature, a notable highlight comes by way of “Avec Moi, Avec Vous.”, which evokes memories of a dreamlike collaboration between ’90s post- and indie-rock, combining the haunting instrumental of the former with the punk-like delivery of the latter.
With any album made in times such as these, it feels almost expected that an artist would find themselves unable to escape from their external world and instead create music which feels self-indulgent, repetitive, and frustratingly stale. In perfect fashion though, Cross has managed to not only avoid this in his creative process, but crafted a body of work that feels as fresh and exciting as ever, and one that will forever avoid the label of “lockdown record”.
As is standard with Darren Cross, it remains to be seen whether future work will follow in the style of this record, or whether about ten more left turns are on track before the year is out. Whatever the case though, DISTORDER is a perfect snapshot of his own musical escapism, and one that you need to experience as soon as possible.
Darren Cross’ DISTORDER is officially out today as a Bandcamp exclusive, with a limited edition of 50 CD copies also available now.