The music of Darren Cunningham, the British electronic musician known as Actress, is notoriously difficult to categorize. Over the past 15 years, he has evaded the confines of more familiar dance music with avant-garde, abstract compositions that gaze inward. Although he references house, techno, dubstep, and R&B, he deconstructs, twists, and stretches them into practically unrecognizable forms. But make no mistake, his records are still intensely emotional—vivid soundscapes so full of depth and light that they can feel overwhelming. And Karma & Desire, his seventh LP, feels, in many ways, like mourning.
Guided by meandering piano arpeggios and hushed vocals about heaven and prayer, it evokes funereal images of death and rebirth (“I’m thinking/Sinking/Down/In Heaven,” Zsela sings on “Angels Pharmacy”). A glitchy, fuzzy texture permeates the album, as if the tracks had been passed through an old-fashioned Instagram filter, and it builds a general sense of uneasiness. Actual beats are scarce, but those that do appear feel almost meditative (“Leaves Against the Sky,” “XRAY”), as if to provide relief from the amorphous expanse. It’s easy to see the metaphor for getting lost in dark corners of your own mind, and the solace that you feel when reality returns.