Over the course of his career, Hudson Mohawke, aka Ross Birchard, has constantly been labeled as groundbreaking. From his debut album Butter, to the follow up Satin Panthers, his sounds have always set him apart from other producers – and though not always working in the genre, his work alongside Lunice as TNGHT created a definitive trap EP, which would inspire many others to pursue a similar sound. Mohawke’s latest work, Lantern explores a number of genres all at once, all interacting in their own way with his signature electronic sound. There’s classic Hudmo sound here for older fans to enjoy, and also some much more accessible stuff that’ll bring in new fans too, but something just feels like it’s missing a mark with Lantern.
Trap and heavy bass is arguably what Mohawke has become known for. TNGHT was absolutely huge. Higher Ground and Goooo still get played in sets and at clubs on the regular – plus solo stuff like Chimes and my personal favourite, 100HM. From Lantern, the biggest trap-styled numbers come in Scud Books and Lil Djembe. Both are super different approaches to trap drums and bass, with Scud Books much more synth oriented and Lil Djembe being all about the obscure percussion and drum sounds. Though they’re both interesting to listen to, these tracks just don’t seem to hit as hard as some of Hudmo’s others. TNGHT was groundbreaking, and tonnes of other artists have taken huge inspiration from that sound, and so maybe it’s a case of Hudmo’s stuff now becoming the norm. It still bangs hard, and sounds super interesting at the same time, but there’s just so much of it around now that it doesn’t have the same impact.
For the most part, Hudmo moves away from the trap sound on Lantern. I’ve never heard any combination of gospel styled vocals with trap drums and orchestral instrumentation laid over the top, but Ryderz brings the heat. It’s these orchestral instruments – a huge variety of horns (typical for Mohawke, see tracks like Chimes), lots of bells and drums, as well as some strings – that show that Birchard’s trying to experiment with sounds not commonly found in electronic music. They can work incredibly well to bring the feeling of a track to the next level, like with Ryderz, but often it feels like they’re just being used for the sake of it, rather than because it wouldn’t be the same without. Kettles is the perfect example of this. It’s a fantastic track. It’s really interesting to listen to, it sounds beautiful and stays fresh after a bunch of listens, but I don’t really know what it’s doing on this album. A of tracks don’t feel like they really reach their full potential and don’t head into any new territory. There’s a whole bunch of different sounds happening in tracks like Portrait of Luci and Shadows but they just sit in those sounds rather than escalating them.
Hudmo’s also got some fantastic vocal features on Lantern. Ruckazoid, Miguel and Jhene Aiko just to name a few – though the album is for the most part purely instrumental. Miguel kills his feature on Deepspace, with Hudmo providing some really gloomy and dark sounds feat. a little bit of organ, but this is by far the best the features get. Resistance with Jhene Aiko is nice, and her vocals sound absolutely gorgeous, but as a track it just sounds like it should be a single that she releases, not a Hudmo track that she features on – like most of the other vocal features. The production and the vocals work well together, but like a lot of the album, it bubbles beneath the surface rather than boiling over.
Don’t get me wrong, I like this album. It’s really nice to listen to and I think that all the production is superb, but honestly I expected more from Hudson Mohawke. Whether it’s because his sound has been replicated more and more recently, or because this album’s been getting hyped for five years, it just kind of fell flat for me. I’m being harsh because it’s Hudmo though. He’s always been seen as groundbreaking and I just don’t really see that on this album – it all just feels too safe. Birchard’s signature is all over Lantern, but it’s an album that has too much happening and not enough at the same time.