Lackluster: Alley: Igloomag Review
Lackluster—a name that is synonymous with melodic electronica and IDM from the early 2000’s—has returned with Alley, his latest collection of works. Helsinki, Finland-based Esa Ruoho has released music on highly influential labels such as deFocus, U-cover, and Merck in the past, but this would be his first album for German label Hymen Records. Since becoming a father in 2020, Esa found himself living a more comfortable lifestyle and spending time with his son outdoors wandering the streets of the Vuosaari neighborhood in eastern Helsinki. The roads all have interesting names like Fog Alley, and Pepper Alley—which is where the album title and songs’ titles on Alley originated.
The opening track has a recognizable feeling that can be found on previous Lackluster releases like Container (2000) and Wrapping (2002). The focal point is typically carefully layered melodies within his works, and “Ginger Alley” is no exception to this. Slower tempos and meandering synth loops come together for a nostalgic trip. The following track “Pepper Alley” is certainly a stand out with crisp percussion tracks shifting ever so slightly off the grid, and sitting atop chilled tonal elements. Lackluster’s songs can be playful, whimsical, and, at times mysterious. “Coffee Bean Alley” and “Swelter Alley” unquestionably fit this mold, as simplistic and lighthearted downtempo compositions that hearken back to the early 2000’s. Never overly technical, Lackluster provides the Warp Records’ Artificial Intelligence type sound on tracks like “Cinnamon Alley” and “Fog Alley.”
It’s worth noting that much of the synthesizer work heard on Alley comes from the Roland SC-88st—a general MIDI module which can be externally controlled. Esa admits that it was “the right challenge at the right time,” learning to use such a primitive device effectively, and that it “has that exact 90’s sound.” Though the gear and technique have changed over the years, Alley still encapsulates the signature Lackluster sound. Fans of Esa’s work will feel right at home hearing this record. Highly recommended for listeners of CiM, John Tejada, early Aphex Twin, and Artificial Intelligence compilations.