Let’s talk about sex. Or at least, let’s talk about what a German might have to say on the subject, on that most reductive and yet somehow most self-affirming of bodily functions. In this case, our German is LX Sweat, a Westphalian producer who in April of last year literally parasailed (no, not literally) out of obscurity with the mini-LP Sweat Sweat Sweat, a promising yet arguably underdeveloped swelter of after-hours disco mush and grainy R&B lechery. Now he’s returned on the same Not Not Fun ticket with City of Sweat, a full-length that lifts the nascent ideas of its predecessor and hones them into a more substantial binge through light-headed Eurodance, synthscaped mating rituals, and abstracted slow-motion house. And while it occasionally manages to sculpt the lusty intoxication that often embodies our relation to and enactment of sex, the mass of its import follows not from any salaciousness or prurience, but from its rendering of the pathos and disillusionment that can often infiltrate the bristling of our loins when we fail to match the imperfect reality of coitus to the improbability of its idealization.
For the majority of the album’s first half, this imaginary ideal is very much in the ascendance. “Bodyflirt” sees it open with a pitch-shifted climactic groan, which fittingly introduces a lascivious, almost oily synth phrase that gyrates and snakes its way to the song’s libidinally exalted chorus. Yet from the get go — from the vocoded come-ons of the verse (“I’m just a freaky boy”) and from the vaguely phantasmal, faintly detached languor of its atmosphere and texture — there’s a very tangible sense that this music, despite its superficial raunch, isn’t actually about the physicality and carnality of sex at all. Yes, there may be an undertone of sultry concupiscence to “Living in the City (No Way Back),” with the clammy lurch of its keyboards, but because this is an undertone channeled through the lo-fi gauziness of these same thickly layered keyboards, rather than more organic and less unprocessed instruments, the “sex” it evokes is imbued with a peculiar unreality and dislocated other-worldliness, as if it’s more a matter of an impossible vision of “Sex,” a vision whose only relation to the actual play of squirming, sweating bodies is to impregnate it with an apprehension of its own fallibility and deficiency.
And this apprehension punctures the edifice of City of Sweat’s delusive, dreamlike eroticism at various key junctures. To take one example, “We Can Make It” starts its life as a bassy, viscerally compelling grind, sped by an accelerating groove that undulates in the company of an ensnaring hi-hat and the flicks of wah-wah electronics. However, as it amasses its pelvic momentum, it begins to invite unpredictable stalls and stutters into the fray, until it abruptly swoons into a half-speed, zoned-out stagger, one invaded by a kind of lugubrious defeat or dejection. It’s from this moment of truth that the album then takes a turn for the defamiliarized and downcast, with the gradually unwinding ambience of “Syrup Ritual” sounding as intangibly viscous and protracted as its title implies. With its unsettled oozing, the sexual overtures and intimations are largely annulled, and in their stead, tracks like “Addicted to Your Love” and “Heavy Rain” participate more in an injured, maudlin romanticism than in anything palpably bestial, burying themselves further in the dangerous idealism that led to their unnamed protagonist’s disappointment in the first place.
Despite this unadvertised departure in its course and mood, the LP arguably reaches its apex during its more subdued and lovelorn final third. The aforementioned “Heavy Rain” is a beautifully streamlined piece of understated melodrama, in which a rarefied synth vocalization finds its weightier counterpoint in lower-register stabs and gushes of nocturnal lament, and in which the latter merges with LX Sweat’s filtered tongue to arrive at an all-too fleeting crest of diffuse intensity. Throughout its uncluttered two minutes, there is a subtly cathartic tinge of loss and mourning, one that’s only deepened by the membranous, bedroom-produced quality of the recordings, which bolster the inkling that we’re being allowed into the privacy of a dented ego.
This access into emotional fragility is then given heightened expression with possibly City of Sweat’s most affecting track, “Fresh Air,” which in its dewy splashes of synthesizer and recurrent melodic stirrings produce an imperviously wistful vibe that adds to the continuing impression that even when the album had been about a certain image of sex, in all its apparently mindless glory, it had only ever been about the self-image that a vulnerable, needy individual might somehow derive from partaking in such a fantasy.