[Warp; 2015]

Styles: happy hardcore, EDM, house, techno, euphoria
Others: Hudson Mohawke, Zomby, Ikonika, Ministry of Sound

Euphoria is a tricky one. It’s not an emotion that can be easily communicated, let alone shared. A smile or laugh of happiness can make those around us feel more at ease, while a scowl or frown of anger can set these same people on edge, even if the emotional gap between the senders and receivers of these more mundane affective states is never completely bridged. However, with euphoria and its egocentric intensity, there’s an even wider gulf between the potential communicator and the recipients, a cleavage that can’t be narrowed by the simple exchange of facial expressions, gestures, or other physical signs. Arguably, it’s the most private and individualistic of the emotions, a solipsistic flushing of chemicals that arises only with physiological stimulation or significant personal achievement. As such, it doesn’t have a social, communicative function, except insofar as it assigns its bearer the status of someone who has either taken ecstasy or just won a Nobel Prize.

This means that Rustie’s third album, EVENIFYOUDONTBELIEVE, has set itself a difficult task. For the most part, its 14 hi-energy tracks all bristle with hard-house euphoria, with blaring keyboards and wildly throbbing beats. Yet, for those of us who haven’t swallowed some MDMA or finally married our high-school sweetheart, this “euphoria” functions merely as sign. Regardless of what its excesses might (or might not) designate for Rustie during the process of its making, for the rest of us, it simply designates its own absence as an effective mover of our emotions. Consequently, the album forces us to behold its ecstasy from the outside, to wonder bemusedly what all its fuss is about, and finally to conclude that Rustie is flaunting jubilation from afar.

More simply though, failure to bring your own jubilation to EVENIFYOUDONTBELIEVE means that it sounds a tad jejune and crass. The synthetic hurtling of “First Mythz” does little to set itself apart from the kind of industrialized trance you’d encounter on a Ministry of Sound compilation, where the likes of Rudimental and Chase & Status vie with each other to see who can dish up the most toe-curling version of rapture on the cheap. It opens with “blissful” atmospherics and “elated” strobing, before drowning itself in epileptic flashes that quote exhilaration more than they manage to bring it. Similarly empty signification can be found on “Atlantean Airship” and “4Eva.” Both of these glittering stompers rise from “chilled” hushes to slap the listener with maximum amounts of electronic “joy,” a joy the emptiness of which serves to create an impression of impenetrability and unattainability, an impression that, in turn, engenders its very opposite.

That’s right: EVENIFYOUDONTBELIEVE elicits as much melancholy as euphoria, simply because its euphoria is present only as citation, simulation, and cliché. This means that, on the one hand, it denies the listener first-hand access to what it purportedly signifies, and that, on the other, it threatens the possibility that all euphoria is only ever citation, simulation, and cliché anyway. Tracks like the celestial “Peace Upzzz” and the hyper-convulsive “Your Goddezz” denote a severe magnitude of such euphoria, yet because their twinkling synths and clattering techno aren’t enough to deliver it to any proportionate degree without complementary hard drugs or personal triumphs, they inadvertently end up denoting its inaccessibility and unreality. Or, to put it more concisely, they end up reminding the listener of the yawning distance between her and the track’s facile bliss.

What’s more, Rustie almost seems aware of this irremediable separation. One later rave-up is called “Death Bliss,” its title presenting it as a vain attempt to express a state that, even if it existed (a BIG if), couldn’t possibly be expressed to the living. It hops and pogos around with a surfeit of exuberance, radiating a glow of carefree exaltation, but once again such exaltation is not directly provided so much as hinted at and referenced. Not only that, but the tacit admission inherent to its name makes it appear as though this same exaltation is being hinted at and referenced only so as to underline its nonexistence and impossibility.

Of course, it’s going way too far to suggest that all euphoria is nonexistent and impossible. Nonetheless, EVENIFYOUDONTBELIEVE deals in a brand of euphoria that’s obvious, caricatured, and hackneyed enough to call its reality into question, regardless of whether the problem is simply the one mentioned in the introduction of communicating euphoria from one person to another. For instance, the emotive serenity and computerized strings of “Open Heartzz” are a little too cloying and over-familiar to transmit much else besides discomfort, aversion, and the niggling suspicion that their main purpose is to hide the fact that no way of generating a more substantial euphoria is available to Rustie.

From this suspicion comes the realization that it and heavy clubbers likes “Coral Castlez” are a fitting encapsulation of the subcultures they cherry-pick from, in that their all-too-easy elation is a perfect counterpart to the kind of quick-fix, mass-produced “elation” that can be bought inside a nightclub for a few notes and then forgotten about the next morning in a puddle of vomit.

That said, this judgement is a little too harsh, and once again, the central problem with EVENIFYOUDONTBELIEVE is that of interpersonally conveying a very personal and intense emotion. Since this problem is a pretty fundamental and intractable one, one based in the difficulty of producing euphoric emotions except by doing good or remarkable things in your life, then the album often has to resort to pure tokenism and nominalism, to simply parading the signifiers of “euphoria” before its audience and hoping that this is enough to convince them to play along. Even though songs like the jittering “444Sure” teem with propulsive energy and dynamic peaks, they lack the inventiveness and originality to induce euphoria in any other way, and thus they descend into commonplaces and banalities.

Sadly, this is to the album’s detriment, since these musical bromides entail that Rustie fails to communicate anything like actual euphoria to his listeners. Instead, he induces a vague sense of unease and distaste, the inkling that what’s being bandied through the airwaves is more the injunction or imperative to be “ecstatic” and less a direct stimulation of ecstasy. Such a codified ritual of elation may serve perfectly well in a club or live setting, and from a purely formal point of view, EVENIFYOUDONTBELIEVE is a well-rounded album of dance music. But at the same time, it risks causing a resistance in the listener, an indifference and bemusement that would distance her from its invocation of euphoria. With it, it becomes even likelier that this invocation remains largely at the level of superficial name-dropping, of referring without conferring, and as a result, the same listener may find herself sitting in coldness and incomprehension while it orgiastically perpetuates the lie that exhilaration is as easy as pressing Play.

Links: Rustie - Warp

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