Third Person Lurkin – The Nameless City

Dusted Wax Kingdom (DWK 066), 2010

Lovecraftian trip-hop.


And yet, despite the bizarre contradiction that concept might suggest, here it is.  Marshall Artist manages to pull it off as Third Person Lurkin, combining the smoky beats and jazzy samples of trip-hop with atmospheric electronic ambiance, intended to convey the strange wonder from the lesser-known work of influential author H.P. Lovecraft.  The Nameless City is TPL’s second similarly themed LP, after The Strange Light District, and doesn’t focus on the formless horror of the Cthulhu Mythos, but takes the path of Lovecraft’s just-as-effective writings inspired by the entrancing and otherworldly poetry of Dunsany, among others.

Third Person Lurkin falls heavily into the cinematic type of trip-hop.  While some music in this style is clearly intended to be instrumental hip-hop – a rap album with the rap removed – Artist leans toward creating cinematic instrumentals using hard snares, off-kilter bass-drum rhythms and high-hats, and sounds of plucked string bass, piano, and horns.  He enfolds this urban core in a haze of synthetic ambient twiddles and passes, giving the music a surreal edge missing from most music in the genre.

“The Silver Key” is a prime example of how TPL’s shadowy brain works.  A slow beat and lazy bass line emerge, perfectly suited for the smooth deliveries of Rakim or Massive Attack, but here, the hip-hop core is surrounded by misty keys and reverbed electronic samples.  Before long, a mournful clarinet and flute materialize through the fog, giving the track a unique and dreamlike aura; fitting, considering the story for which it’s named.  These seemingly disparate elements are fused together with such care, they seem molded from the same source.

It’s an odd match, and one that might sound unwieldy on paper, but Marshall Artist has a keen sense of what he’s trying to accomplish, and doesn’t lay it on too thickly.  The Nameless City may be named for a story describing a place of ancient horror, but here, it’s a hidden fog-shrouded place, meant to be discovered and explored.  Tracks like “Mountain Top Temples” and “Eon Dead Hallways” contain just enough unease to make one wary, but there are no slobbering tentacled beasts here – just long-empty buildings tucked away in the far corners of the world….or in the dim places one roams when sleeping.

TPL’s use of samples – xylophone (check out the melody on “Liquid Lights”), string (love the bass of “Churning Vapors”), piano, the scattered vinyl crackles – give the album an aged feel, too; not ancient, mind you, but harking to the 1910s and 1920s.  It’s a perfect fit for a Lovecraft theme.  Even the beats have a classic and dusty sound to them; I wouldn’t be surprised if they were played live in many cases.

On the other hand, Artist is a clever composer in his own right.  Several tracks reduce the samples and increase the original electronics:  “Float Awkward” is a buzzing and bubbling piece of near-IDM beatwork that is the most menacing on the album (nothing terrorizing, but a bit more ominous), while “A Potent Nimbus” slouches easily along beneath a drifting downtempo-style female vocal sample.

The Nameless City is a different take on a common Lovecraft trope.  It’s nothing like the dark ambient tribal-drumming release by Maculatum with which it shares its title, but the two albums look at Lovecraft from two separate viewpoints, and distill the experience in equally effective ways.  Third Person Lurkin is a fine example of the more cinematic side of trip-hop, and a cohesive album like this is an odd, but finely planned and executed soundtrack to a dreamlike side of Lovecraft’s writing that often gets lost in the imposing and alien shadow of the Old Ones.