I Dub New York
Falty DL: Bravery (Planet Mu)
Because I’m old and I prefer my living room above all else, I missed NYC’s Drew “Falty DL” Lustman when he headlined the monthly Turbotax party at Hugs in Williamsburg recently. Lustman produces jumbled, sonically riveting electronic music via computer software, keyboards, and a couple of turntables. His work is a sort of dubstep-house-jungle amalgam, with layers of ghostly half-spoken vocal bits, atmospheric flourishes, and synthesizers overtop a shuffling set of blunt, danceable drum stabs. Having spent some time with Bravery, his new mini-album on Planet Mu, I’m disappointed that I didn’t make the ten-minute walk over to Hugs that night, but I’m also of the mindset that this premium head music really wouldn’t translate well alongside skee-ball and the socially challenged spillover from Sea.
Following up on his earlier double-vinyl release on Planet Mu and a 12” on Ramp, Lustman pitches resonant, mysterious beats over Bravery’s thirty-three minutes. Those fond of dubstep—a perpetually morphing offshoot of the U.K. garage/2-step sound that began gathering steam in the early 2000s—will find something to love about his productions, so long as they’re inclined to stray from the strictly wobble-centric stylings of modern genre favorites. Lustman tends toward the funkier end of the spectrum. While comparisons to widely celebrated dubstep names like Burial, Zomby, or Martyn may seem lazy, they do make some sense: Burial’s output since 2006 is a rich collection of garage-beat-heavy sounds that are both minimal and generously ambient, which is the kind of attribute you can confidently pin on Lustman’s 2009 endeavors.
In fraying synth couplets and scattershot kick drums that sporadically collapse mid-track, Bravery is dark and captivating; it slips into a comfortable corner of your skull and nests there. Gloopy bass lines and drunken handclaps barely keep things in check. The disc is loaded with tracks that sound like they’ve long been in progress when they’ve just begun. The opening seconds of “Play Child,” for example, are a lovely mess, and a disconnected cooing vocal that slinks in and out of both speakers when the track lifts off is hardly anchored to anything around it. The track’s somewhat tangible tempo and soulful keyboard loops lend it a slick house feel, but the other forces at work contribute a dynamic that’s appealing enough for me to revisit daily or, more often, at night. I listened to Bravery recently on a late, damp Saturday trip into the city, and its divergent textures—pinned against the blitz of lights and disorder of the West Village’s sidewalks—seemed well-suited to that setting. It’s as if Lustman makes music for dusk, specifically for nighttime in New York.
Bravery (and all of the Falty DL stuff that’s come before it) is entirely instrumental save for the fragments of verses or sampled conversation, so it’s not like there’s an MC at every turn on the record, prattling on about the JMZ or hard luck in Bed-Stuy. Instead, Drew Lustman’s enthusiasm for hip-hop and New York are communicated structurally, in subtle nods through broken downtempo beats and half-delivered city-centric vocal clips. “Mother Beam” rides a rubbery pulse that mirrors production from trip-hop trailblazers Massive Attack as well as from contemporary dubstep producer Pinch, with snare rolls and intermittent, nearly incomprehensible chatter spread across its potent bass line. Lustman flipped through his crate and snagged a quick snippet of Nas’s “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” for “Mother Beam,” and two birds are killed: The affinity for 90s NYC rap is at the forefront for anyone with a soft spot for the “smooth criminal of beat breaks,” and if sampling a Large Professor–produced joint from Illmatic isn’t as reverent a nod to the city and its outer boroughs as you could get, all of the unfinished New York conversation bits hovering in the background should cover it.
New York also got its due on Lustman’s debut LP, Love Is a Liability, released earlier this year. Love is a monster of a record that bridges spirited dance music, hip-hop, and crystalline dub-infected electronics in an astonishingly understated eighteen tracks. I can’t decide which of the two releases I like more. With its massive store of energy, and even sneaky servings of drum ’n’ bass breakbeats, Love is a better fit for a crowded bar. (Like Bravery, however, all of the details lining Love would go easily unnoticed if you were trying to take them in in the company of inebriated young adults.)
Just before a spot of percolating synths and pitch-shifted percussion called “The Shape to Come” slows Love Is a Liability’s pace a bit, Lustman’s “To New York” fizzes and flutters atop almost undetectable beats. Even without the undercurrent that propels Love’s “Winter Sole,” “To New York” harbors its own barrage of melody and fascinating tonal interplay. The title helps establish the spirited house of “To New York” as an apt love letter, rich with spontaneity and a complex mingling of colorful sonics. I’ll bet this tribute sounds pretty wonderful in a public place. Maybe I’ll actually leave the apartment and check it out live sometime.
Dominic Umile lives, writes, and drinks in Greenpoint.