There was a time when being a member of Lazer Sword was a lot more convenient. Back in 2006, Antaeus Roy (a.k.a. Lando Kal) and Bryant Rutledge (a.k.a. Low Limit) were a couple of San Francisco beatheads who lived together, worked at XLR8R, and bonded over a shared love of underground hip-hop and a desire to experiment with electronic sounds. Working on a Lazer Sword track literally meant walking down the hall, while playing a show was as simple as packing up some equipment and hopping in a taxi. Six years later, things have changed—a lot. In 2012, the seasoned artists now find themselves living on separate continents, as Roy now calls Berlin home while Rutledge has settled in Los Angeles. Making music requires online collaboration and the accommodation of wildly different time zones, while touring means that one of the guys is hopping on a plane and crossing an ocean. In the aftermath of the duo's 2010 debut full-length, Lazer Sword, it would have been easy for Roy and Rutledge to pack it in and simply focus on their solo careers—in case you missed it, Roy spent much of 2011 dropping singles for the likes of Rush Hour and Hotflush. Instead, they've soldiered on, teamed up with Modeselektor's Monkeytown imprint, and put together Memory, an accomplished 11-track effort that is without a doubt the best thing Lazer Sword has ever done.
Memory may not be a complete departure from Lazer Sword's earlier work, but those looking for the slapping hip-hop beats and crunked-up vibes that defined the group's past releases may be surprised to find that Roy and Rutledge have seriously trimmed the fat while simultaneously expanding their sonic palette. This is a sleeker, sexier version of Lazer Sword, one that take cues from ‘80s electro, Detroit techno, and various brands of UK futurism. Yes, there is still plenty of low end, but the duo's thick bass tones now serve as a jumping off point rather than a tool to bash you over the head. Some tunes on Memory—namely the woozily psychedelic album opener "Sky Burial" and the hauntingly intense synth workout "Out the Door"—don't have any beats at all.
That said, the heart Lazer Sword still resides in the club, and Memory is anything but short on tracks geared for the dancefloor. With its beefed-up take on classic electro and sultry vocal bits, "Missed a Spot" has all the makings of an anthem. "Sounds Sane" treads along similar territory, and sounds just as good as it did when it was released as a single late last year. Taking cues from juke and footwork, "Toldyall" uniquely combines rolling toms and rapid-fire percussion with moody pads and unorthodox melodies, while "Pleasure Zone" offers an infectiously mutated brand of' '80s freestyle.
Memory also finds Lazer Sword involving a couple of its friends in the production process. Jimmy Edgar steps in with some of his infamous robotic sex vibes on "Let's Work," a song that gets down and dirty over a slow techno pulse. The remarkably prolific Machinedrum also makes an appearance, sharing some of his frenetic energy on "CHSEN," one of the album's more hyperactive jams. That said, it pales in comparison to the madness-inducing "Point of Return," a track that channels Detroit while unleashing a dizzy array of swirling pads, twisted vocal snippets, and tweaky synth melodies. "Better from U" is another mind-bending production, a song that adds angular synths and stabbing percussion to a moody UK garage framework, creating something that's both well-suited for the dancefloor and dripping with a potent sense of longing. Closing effort "People" is more upbeat, but no less complex, as Lazer Sword wraps Memory on a meditative note, marrying a metronome-like rhythm with a pensive array of vintage sounds and videogame-inspired melodies.
Composing Memory on two different continents wasn't easy, but its songs quickly make it clear that it was absolutely worth the effort. Obviously, Roy and Rutledge remembered that something special happens whenever the two come together to make music; after hearing Memory, that fact is something the rest of us won't be soon to forget.