For former Late of the Pier frontman Samuel Eastgate, AKA Sam Dust, his new solo project LA Priest represents a fresh start. You can hear it in the music; Inji, the debut album under that name, takes an almost violently transformative and revisionary approach to the common elements of electronic pop music, tearing at ragged synthesizers, drilling vintage drum machine sounds into submission and mechanizing repeated melodies into a vibrant mash of psychedelic energy and spontaneous flair. Inji never stops in its mission to redefine pop; in Dust’s own words over the slowly building backdrop of “Party Zute / Learning to Love”, “It’ll be just like learning to love all over again.”
It starts with disparate influences. On album opener “Occasion”, Dust’s exasperated, high-pitched Marc Bolan vocals and fuzzy melodies suggest the messy makeup, feminine taste and suggestive, curled lipstick smirk of vintage glam rock, and his erratic electronic sounds are similarly gaudy and beautifully demented. The instrumentation is loosely segmented and separated, almost impulsive — the antithesis of the rigid structuralism of traditional pop and electronic music. “Oino”, one of the more deliberately paced songs on the album, approaches mutant disco with a similar ethos but rests comfortably in a seductive state of tropical synthpop luster. Even with a more tangible framework, “Oino” is a swirling and disorienting take on pop music tropes, a solid representation of both Dust’s reverence for the genre’s traditions and his singularly offbeat reimagining of those same qualities.
Thankfully neither “Occassion”’s glam rock nor “Oino’s” disco represent the overriding template, if there is one, to Inji. Dust’s ambitions aim toward more abstract decadence, a meshing of a vast spectrum of pop sounds into a complex and colorful whole. He dabbles with eerie, dark experiments (“Lorry Park”, a standout instrumental formed from ghostly vocal samples and slight, choppy breakbeat percussion, and “Gene Washes with New Arm”, featuring an industrial, distorted synth pad and low-pitched chimes) as often as he evokes bright, airy pop. Tonally, Inji is a compulsively dynamic record, and for as much space as Dust covers over its runtime, his experiments and his more conventional inclinations very rarely miss the mark.
Inji’s most defining track, the unbalanced, almost sinister “Party Zute / Learning to Love”, condenses all of Dust’s playful, erratic charms into a rich, evolutionary cacophony of trippy electronics. It trades glitchy beats and melodies at a whim for eight bizarre minutes, shifting restlessly between classic drum machine percussion and minced up samples at an unsteady, disorienting pace until it builds into a satisfying house groove. The incessant waves of psychedelic energy output by the song — smartly situated as the album centerpiece — radiate outward and heighten Dust’s surrounding antics, made far more comprehensible just by virtue of being in the presence of a song so hypnotizingly unpredictable. “Party Zute”’s unique flurry of spontaneous rhythms and samples, varied instrumentation, grounded basslines and choppy drum beats, each anxiously fidgeting around, phasing in and out of each other, perfectly captures Dust’s vast range of imagination in the pop sphere. He deconstructs and elaborates on individual sounds, melodies, instruments and samples, fascinated not by form or function but by the abstract, elemental forces of pop.
That Dust somehow approaches conventional dance music composition by processing hundreds of disparate electronic sounds and arranging them in some sort of virtuosic monolith, not noisy or discordant but in perfect, unlikely harmony, is a testament to his alchemic skill as a producer, songwriter and performer. Through the blur of sparkling effects and montage editing throughout Inji, Dust’s melodies stay perfectly in focus, making for an immediate, accessible album with challenging depth. Though the rest of Inji fails to match the sprawling idiosyncrasies of “Party Zute”, Dust’s spontaneous pop novelty is a constant thrill. The infectious basis of pop music may never change, but Dust shows that the mechanisms that drive that force are in constant flux. It truly is best that way.