“Time warped” is the phrase that most accurately describes the mood evoked by the latest Locust album, You’ll Be Safe Forever. While The Revenant Diary, released last year under Mark Van Hoen’s own name, was haunted with a crackling, crooked ambience, his unexpected return as Locust touches a familiar, softer chord. Its origin explains a lot: during Van Hoen and Louis Sherman’s shared live session for WFMU in 2012, the artists realized that they were actually working in the style of Locust — and hence, the way was paved for an initially-unplanned reboot. The pair’s meeting was eventually augmented with various unused tracks of Van Hoen’s, dating back as far as 2006.
Thus, You’ll Be Safe Forever was born before it was truly conceived, and this retroactive quality prevails throughout. It has an uneven, patchwork feel due to the chronological leaps, and it’s thoroughly saturated with the past. As if someone pressed the pause button in the late 1990s but only released it now, the album continues the tradition of mild, slowly-rolling IDM sprinkled with ornamental noise. It’s a tried and tested formula, where breakbeats go hand-in-hand with mellow ambience and moderately disquieting trip-hop. And yet, while downtempo moods provide the framework for the majority of the album, it isn’t an entirely calming experience. A certain kind of unsettling sensation, typical of millennial IDM, is present in nearly every track: Van Hoen is particularly keen on luring a blissful ambient melody into darker realms, and he doesn’t steer away from occasional dissonance. Unfortunately for him, it appears that this lopsidedness, which once provided so much gravity and lineament for Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, and indeed the earlier Locust releases, has lost much of its power. Such dream-gone-wrong, poisoned idyll tropes and tricky, twisting psychedelia have become somewhat threadbare in 2013.
Despite the prevalent sense of temporal confusion that accompanies the listening experience, certain tracks appear to be paradoxically up to date. Throughout the guided meditation of “Do Not Fear,” Jennifer Restivo’s soft recitation echoes the New Age sound detritus that current vaporwave artists like to trifle with — yet without vaporwave’s critical aspect. The opener, “Fall For Me,” with its scraps of auto-tuned voice, has something in common with the hazy, fatigued post-hip-hop we’ve heard a lot of in the last three years. The album’s best moments, such as “More Like Prayer Than Science” and especially “The Washer Woman,” widen into the realms of a deeper nostalgia, touching on the soaring, transcendental feel of 1970s and 80s ambient synthesizer music. These parts of the album are the most engaging and provide a counterbalance to the rather disappointing 90s references.
From a purely musical perspective, You’ll Be Safe Forever remains a case of unfulfilled hope: an album that promises a great deal but attenuates halfway, eventually leading the listener down a path that’s disappointingly safe and familiar. Regardless of this, the album may yet prove to be a prescient one: even though it’s likely a pragmatic rather than deliberate move, You’ll Be Safe Forever is one of the first instances of revisiting IDM. Such re-examination is inevitable, both due to the cyclical process of music gradually recycling its own heritage and as a retreat from the brash, bass-heavy fashions of today. This in itself becomes an edifying experience, and a timely reason why it’s good to hear Locust again.