There’s an interesting tension that exists in the world of dance music between the ideal of innovation and its execution. As heavy consumers of electronic and dance music, we tire of hearing the same thing and long for something that feels new and exciting, yet in general our expectations of ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ fall within a very narrow margin of musical possibility – we still want our sturdy beat pattern and arresting melody, just with the variables tweaked in a fresh way. Ultimately the difference between critically lauded ‘forward-thinking’ dance music and the most generic tech-house imaginable is a little like the genetic difference between a human and a banana – absolutely crucial if you happen to be a human (/banana) or a dance-head, but rather minor if you’re looking at the situation from the outside. Example: would one of your friends who doesn’t listen to dance at home but casually enjoys it in the club actually hear a huge difference between your favourite underground house jam and the latest David Guetta single?
This is why, in a sense, when we encounter true innovation it first seems baffling rather than dazzling, given that it doesn’t conform to our very strict expectations of what ‘our music’ should be. Lifted’s debut album ‘1’ is just such an example. Granted, this wouldn’t exactly be called dance music, and while the broader electronic music tag includes some sounds which could be distant relatives to this LP (perhaps Oneohtrix Point Never and Holly Herndon as second cousins, twice-removed), the fact that Lifted is in fact a collaboration of some of our dance scene’s most brilliant minds makes it a worthy inclusion to the debate.
Lifted is an artistic project in the truest sense. Future Times’ endlessly compelling Max D (Andrew Field-Pickering) has teamed up with Co La (Matthew Papich) to create an album of material which is damn near uncategorisable, enlisting the help of Jordan CGZ and Gigi Masin on the overdubs. The music, all sent remotely between the group with little physical contact and released on Bill Kouligas’ reliable PAN imprint, shows the team breaking free from the fetters of the 4/4 and conformist dance music, shooting joyously into the sky with a rush of featherweight free-jazz and synthwork.
The music of ‘1’ is so removed from points of reference that it defies easy description. It’s slippery, and on first listen may prove challenging, hard to grab on to. But once the listener gets used to the album’s internal logic it’s a thrilling piece that feels genuinely liberated, experimental music which soars with a light playfulness not often found in music which so overtly defies convention.
There are two key ingredients to Lifted’s sound. One is its chaotic rhythms, more free jazz than house. Whether the drums are hyper-filtered on Intoo, tumbling beyond rhythm on 3D or occasionally courting the ghost of a 4/4 on Total Care Zero, the effervescent percussion provides a nimble base for the range of melodic experimentation that is the album’s other crucial ingredient. The synths glide like chrome on Intoo, drift opulently on the gorgeous Mint or sketch future-grime figures on album highlight Bell Slide, constantly giving something new to the listener. 1 even briefly comes down from its lysergic rush on a couple of lush piano pieces, Lift a gentle celestial voyage and Silver more earthy, evoking a hushed loss.
Lifted’s debut is the rare album which feels purely next-level, like music beamed from an idealised future. And on its best moments, like Mint or the sparkling chill of closer Medicated Yoga, that future is very jazzy indeed. The sound that the group have created is like an unstable chemical: constantly mutating, joyously effervescent. So few artists who chart fresh electronic terrain manage to do so with such lightness and joy in their sound. Because Lifted do, you won’t just follow them willingly – you’ll do it with a broad smile on your face.