Text: Jaap van Hamond
Canadian Luke Pretty made a name for himself around 2014 during the golden century of Soundcloud. With releases such as the ‘Like What’ EP, he walked the line between eccentric electronic music and dreamy pop, often with a jazzy edge. And after almost a decade full of even more excellent singles and EPs, it is finally time for a debut album. With colourful electronic production, ‘Rot’ goes deeper into the pop elements that have increasingly dominated Tennyson’s music over the past decade. Although there is less room for experimental excursions than before, Tennyson is establishing himself as a capable songwriter with a fertile future.
On ‘Rot’, the balance lies predominantly towards electronic pop, with prominent vocals on almost all the songs and recognisable song structures. And although the music is still full of with ear-catching detail, in this context it feels less outspoken than we are used to from previous releases. Pretty sings about darkness with his fragile and often processed voice, sleep problems and abandonment, for example halfway through opener ‘Feelwitchu’, when the breakbeats drop to make room for his natural, soft voice for the first time voice: “Whatever I say, whatever I do is not enough for you. Wherever you go, understand that I said what I wanted to.” It reminds somewhere of James Blake, pained but resolute, and this is the kind of confession he often makes on ‘Rot’. Take ‘Torn’, where Pretty is disarming in his gloom: “Your voice is still inside my head, but your light is really gone and I breathe the dark instead.” It’s a shame that the instrumental is on the weaker side, with the guitar heading towards cliché and the beat developing somewhat little.
But fortunately, there are plenty of bright spots on Rot as well. First single ‘Iron’ is a cast-iron (pun intended…) example, with rhythmic layers that cheerfully wrap around each other.
Pretty’s lyrics go from here to there, but the core of the song is obscure: dreams, sand, wires, and a bad phone connection. It contains some of Pretty’s most interesting lyrics: “Is your house on a slippery slope? Is your honey due? Have you tangled the yarn in your head? Whatchu tryna do?” Reallywanna’ is another highlight, where Pretty draws hope from despair. “Why did you have to go? When I was fighting like a heaven drone,” he laments over a contrastingly upbeat instrumental, complete with uplifting modulation at the end. As a courageous close, there is ‘Figure Eights’, a real rock song like Tennyson has never done before. The song could have been twice as long, with a conclusion full of noise and discharge. Instead, ‘Rot’ ends somewhat abruptly and that feels like a shame.
That Tennyson’s production is of a high class we already knew in principle. On ‘Rot’, he also proves his skill as a songwriter, even though there is certainly room for improvement and more boldness. And although the album doesn’t always sparkle like on previous EPs, there are enough highlights to make it a catchy debut.