Guerre: Ex-Nihilo

Sydney's Lavurn Lee returns to the Guerre moniker but brings serious beats to his whispery future soul.

- In the last few years, few figures have made as strong a contribution to the Australian electronic music scene as Lavurn Lee. Not necessarily one of its most high profile names, nonetheless as Guerre, in 2011, he laid down the quietest but most soulful future r’n’b sounds. A bit before Oliver Tank and certainly before Chet Faker; whatever the relative merits of Australia’s various quiet crooners and for all of Lee’s whispery presentation he was a leading light in the timidly ‘tronic roster of the Yes Please label and one of the few convincing local answers to The Weeknd and so-called pbr’n’b.

Unfortunately that whole stylistic stab hasn’t had too much staying power. The Weekn’d has got his work cut out for him if he wants to claw back the prestige of 2011 and apparently Frank Ocean doesn’t even want to be called r’n’b any more. As that hype faded, Lee didn’t let it phase him, making a bold move on a four track EP, One, under a different alias, Cassius Select. Released on another keen little label, Hunter Gatherer, Lee traded echoing r’n’b for thudding techno, exotic tribal flourishes, dancehall menace, gritty industrial teeth and the occasional injection of house euphoria. In 2013, though it wasn’t exactly beating the house and techno revival to the punch, Lee was certainly in the same weight class as the likes of Actress and Jon Hopkins, not least because -with those world affectations- he gave it something all his own.

In 2014 Lee has picked up the Guerre moniker again and he hasn’t abandoned those echoing avant r’n’b sounds either. What he has done is bring in the dance beats he’s been working so successfully with. It’s difficult to say whether that’s just a logical step, with the tiniest touch of genius, or even a risky move; the proof is in the listening I suppose.

Two advance singles -Tuk and Deatheat- have both been positive signs. Tuk has Lee whispering away quietly, pitch-shifting into near incomprehensibility, which hardly matters with that infectious beat bouncing away on something that sounds like a tabla; halfway in the track folds out into a rich, ambient background: excellent. Deatheat shimmers with more of the same warm ambience and the friskily syncopated tribal beat may well be the single best thing on the record. The vocals are again pitch shifted, down into some drugged out miasma. When you have that beat, nothing else needs to make sense.

As infectious, even all-consuming as these cuts have been, Ex-Nihilo has been a murk that has been tougher to penetrate. Beyond key words, the vocals are almost always nigh-on impossible to comprehend: echoing, oozing, flowing liquidly beyond their ability to carry meaning. You’ve just got to treat them as another instrument, and Lee, who’s said he’s put less of ‘himself’ in this record, may well see it the same way. Rhythm is the primary force, shaping everything and you can often hear different layers of rhythm straining against each other, like in the early track Premier. Not only are they pressed together, but, beyond the beats, the pressure of all the heavy vocals layers, that arrhythmic atmosphere, it feels like it’s grabbing and pulling at the music, exhausting the listener. Although there are so many exciting elements in this roiling gumbo of sound, Ex-Nihilo, which means ‘out of nothing’, manages to give us just about everything and maybe it’s too much.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Ex-Nihilo
Artist: Guerre
Record Label: (Yes Please / Remote Control)