Ever since Actress hinted at a new album back in May 2019, we have been waiting with open ears and arms, for Karma & Desire to arrive. With a single 49-minute track '88' uploaded on Bandcamp earlier this year, it was a palette cleanser for what is to come. For this new record, we see Darren Cunningham returning in true Actress form, alongside the now revealed list of mystery collaborators - Mercury Prize winner Sampha, singer and songwriter Zsela, Aura T-09, pianist and conductor Vanessa Benelli Mosell and vocalist Rebekah Christel.
Several of the tracks on Karma & Desire find Darren Cunningham leaning into the sort of hazy, slightly hypnagogic synthscapes which have cropped up repeatedly throughout his output as Actress. Cuts such as ‘Gliding Squares’ have a quality about them which is pitched between dreamy reverie and something more unsettling. It is a sound which means that Karma & Desire can count both Dean Blunt and David Lynch as points of reference. When house and techno beats enter the fray they almost emerge out of these synthetic fogs - even the more lively joints still crackle and hiss with an alluring softness. In this manner, Karma & Desire harks back to previous Actress LPs such as AZD, though there is often a wintry quality to the more beat-driven tracks here which mark them out as unique to this LP.
There are several moments on Karma & Desire where Actress follows his nose to end up in electronic terrain that is difficult to name. The rhythms on ‘Loose’, for instance, draw from juke and ‘Pulse X’-era Eskibeat, but the way in which strange clouds of sound are created from keyboards and Rebekah Cristel’s faraway vocals means that the track is only really comparable to the experiments of Inga Copeland. Furthermore, the points where the piano is played, frequently deliver some of the most beautiful moments here, be they the sparse ‘Public Life (feat. Vanessa Benelli Mosell)’ or the soulful lilt of ‘Walking Flames (feat. Sampha)’.
Karma & Desire brings a surreal beauty to Actress’ typically innovative brand of electronic composition.