Karma & Desire


It’s to Darren Cunningham’s benefit that vibe started infringing on the importance of genre as definitive artistic marker right around the time the first Actress records started dropping in the late 2000s. And on Karma & Desire, the vibe is subdued yet troubled existentialist contemplation, with sparse pianos, soaring-drone chords, a techno-diasporic but distinctly reductionist approach to beats, and his first-ever slate of actual vocal collaborators upholding an unsettling yet liberating feeling of confronting melancholy head-on. The songs featuring vocals only add further thematic ambiguity: London neo-soulster Sampha is pitch-warped into malfunctioning-VR uncanny-valley surrealism in “Many Seas, Many Rivers,” Brooklyn art-pop singer Zsela murmurs hushed invocations of heaven’s unattainability on “Angels Pharmacy” and “Remembrance,” and L.A. techno producer/polymath Aura T-09 finds herself on “Loveless” and “Turin” turning dance-hook desire into cracked-mirror distortions that get more enigmatic with each repetition.

Nate Patrin