The hyper-chromatic music of Matt Cutler marks him out as a true impressionist; as Lone, he drizzles brightly coloured melody through his tracks with all the reflexive skill of a master painter daubing inks and pigment across paper. On Cutler’s fifth Lone album, Reality Testing, released on R&S, he sends notes and chords rippling delicately into space before allowing them to disperse, each oozing beautifully away into the background fabric of the music. Combined with rhythms that ebb and flow, shifting from propulsive club constructions to beatific coastal hip-hop, it’s a sensuous, immersive, heady experience, and easily his most accomplished and self-contained work to date.
“I was listening to a lot of Detroit techno and old Chicago house that had the same grain and dirtiness to it as a lot of the hip hop I was listening to,” says Cutler of the genesis for Reality Testing. “That was the real spark – I wanted to make an album that had both hip hop and house beats, but that weren’t completely different from each other, that shared the same sort of vibe. I love the idea of two things sat side by side, but instead of it seeming like they’re complete opposites, [it’s more that] those two things could almost be the same thing.”
Indeed, Reality Testing is unique among Lone’s work to date in its feeling of complete unification. Throughout, he draws upon the many loves and inspirations he’s previously explored in his own music – house, techno and instrumental hip hop – but weaves them together into an inseparable whole. On advance single ‘Airglow Fires’ a rough-shod groove is set upon by dazzling chord blushes, melding rave’s serotonin tingle with an altogether softer and more intimate atmosphere. ‘Aurora Northern Quarter’s kinked momentum nods equally to London broken beat, soul, and Detroit’s tradition of collage-esque deep house and hip hop. At other times, meanwhile, the music’s recombinant nature is yet more overt: as ‘Airglow Fires’ ends its house groove gives way to a teasingly brief, glittery hip hop coda, while centrepiece ‘Coincidence’ morphs midway from woozy shuffle to bright-eyed gallop.
Cutler’s prolific output as Lone to date has betrayed a restlessly creative mind, always searching for new pathways along which to take his sound. In his early years, he remembers, his workrate was relentless: “literally every day [I’d be] working on music, doing tracks really quickly, just trying to capture a mood and a vibe.” Indeed, Lone’s music, with its melodic warmth and emotional expressiveness, has long felt like a portal into Cutler’s subconscious – each individual track, like a sketchbook, seems to enshrine a particular mood at the moment it’s written. As time has gone on, Cutler has “become better at capturing that,” he says, “and then leaving it for a while, really taking the time to explore it and make the most of it, make [the track] a clearer picture.”
So Reality Testing is, on one level, a more considered Lone record; his sound is more gracefully integrated than ever before, the emotions and energy more sharply crystallised: its club-centred tracks hit harder, its stranger moments feel still woozier, and its moments of outright beauty are yet more fleetingly exquisite. Yet it remains characteristically a Lone record, possessed of that compellingly impulsive personality and multi-faceted nature – even its lightest-hearted moments are laced with a deliciously trippy, near-psychotic edge – that has always made his work deeply rewarding. “I see it as like a diary, really, a real document of the last year of making it,” Cutler reflects. “In a lot of the tracks there’s sounds I’ve sampled and recorded of me just being in the studio, and leaving the microphone running – you’re almost in there with me. I wanted it to be a representation of the different moods and emotions that went into making it – just as real and honest as possible.”