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Artist: The Host

Album: The Host

Label: Planet Mu

Review date: Mar. 26, 2012

Maybe it was 2006’s Oneiric that did him in at just the right time, but Barry Lynn has spent most of the last six years trying to climb his way out of the critical black hole that dubstep became. The Northern Irish native has kept up a steady stream of output with singles on Paul Rose’s Hotflush Recordings and albums on Mike Paradinas’s well-regarded Planet Mu that have moved increasingly away from the maximal vibes of Benga’s formula and into the softer, more ambient territory of types like Burial or Mount Kimbie. But it’s been a slow road and, even with 2008’s Balancing Lakes under his own name and 2011’s decidedly funky The Dissolve, the tag somehow lingers.

When Planet Mu announced a new album from The Host in January, little information was provided. I’m willing to bet it was Lynn’s idea, and why not? A fresh alias means a fresh place to start even if the truth comes out eventually. Of course, he can’t change who he is and how he processes influences into his music: The Host may be distinct from Lynn’s other names in what it namechecks, but not in how it goes about namechecking them. It’s a clear combination of Manuel Göttsching (primarily during Ash Ra Temple but with traces of E2-E4) and Planet Mu’s favorite electronic flavor over the last two years, Chicago footwork.

The first influence clearly dominates the other, but I hear the footwork mostly in the treble of “Angel Fire” and “Tryptamine Sweep,” and in how these songs fly by. A dozen in under 45 minutes means we’re jumping from a solo guitar stretch on “Hidden Ontology” (which is three minutes long, but feels twice that) to the clattering IDM of “Org” to the relaxed vibes of “3am Surfing.” The unpredictable nature from one track to the next is another subtle reminder of the sequencing and pace of Bangs & Works or Ghettoteknitianz.

Unlike footwork, however, this isn’t gritty or rough sounding. Lynn has been at it long enough to refine whatever he incorporates; nothing he does sounds so fresh as to be divisive. The Host is a sun-blessed electronic album drawing from the now, as well as two decades ago, and that works well enough. It’s incredibly smooth and pleasant. Planet-Mu insists this is meant for the headphones-inclined. I get that, too. It’s certainly more introspective than anything he’s done as Boxcutter.

Those sounds and that feeling don’t make much sense when paired with some of these titles, though. None of the song titles that reference Geocities, Angelfire or Minesweeper remind me of those things in the overt way that, say, James Ferraro does. And since he’s using analog equipment, his processes don’t remind me of them, either.

Maybe it’s not about overt associations. With little to draw upon specifically in this context, I came to a similar conclusion as Andrew Gaerig after several listens: We both agree that The Host is elusive and we’re not sure if that’s the point. Lynn chose The Host for this music — a name that suggests a stable presence — but an alias and name that are the same only furthers the mystery. For me, this isn’t an album about what’s here, or even what’s not; it’s about what used to be.

By Patrick Masterson

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