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Album of the Month: Loraine James ‘Reflection’

Loraine James conjures dreams of the club, claustrophobia and isolation on her stunning new album for Hyperdub

Anyone else been having proper weird dreams lately? Loraine James’ ‘Reflection’ will probably appeal if you have. It’s like a dream: you’re in the club, then somehow on the walk home, then back in the club for a bit, then in the smoking area pranging out, then suddenly tucked up in bed.

At a time when clubbing is an experience most of us only half remember, ‘Reflection’ conjures images of a night out like a subconscious; one that’s struggling with faint memories of social interaction, and dealing with complex feelings towards the return of the party. It suggests more than mere excitement at clubs reopening: there’s a sense of nervousness, of not quite knowing how things will be, even perhaps of a pre-existing ambivalence towards the dancefloor.

It’s the third album by Loraine James, an artist who grew up on a north London council estate and learned to produce while at the University of Westminster. She often talks about UK garage, Telefon Tel Aviv, and London gay clubs like Heaven, but she’s also confessed to not really going out that much. ‘Reflection’ is the follow-up to 2019’s ‘For You And I’, which felt like her breakthrough album, though her debut ‘Detail’ is just as good. All stammering drum loops and dubwise space, her style made signing to Hyperdub almost inevitable.

It’s safe to say that “hyperdub” is effectively a genre now. Rather than pointing out all the strands and substrands of club music that producers like James are seamlessly meshing together, let’s just note that, yes, she’s listened to Burial, DJ Rashad, and Laurel Halo, and is now carrying the label torch herself by releasing post-rave-something-or-other as an album-length statement.

Thankfully, she’s not restricted by the format. Her opener ‘Built To Last’ is not an ambient introduction but a podium bottle-popper, with the distorted voice of producer-and-rapper Xavier Stone burbling something about Alizé in what is a pretty catchy hook. Stone is one of seven vocalists on the record, including James, and all of them are buried under layers of fuzz, their words carrying messages no clearer than those conveyed by the anonymous instruments surrounding them.

‘Insecure Behaviour and Fuckery’ is another great track, befitting of those moments spent standing still on a dancefloor, so far gone you’re not even sure if you’re still awake. Just as you sink into James’s somnambulant goo, Scottish grime MC Nova leans into your ear and unleashes a stream of verbal, holding you to attention even though you can only make out the odd word.

Next it’s the curious ‘Self Doubt (Leaving the Club Early)’, a pleasantly melancholic track. It could be about feeling uncomfortable in a place you once thought was safe or, just as easily, a paean to the happy solitude that comes with saying, “Fuck this”, leaving before the rush, and getting McDonald’s on your way home. James’s own vocal contributions suggest an artist contending with isolation: “Feels like the walls are caving in” she murmurs on the brilliant title track, among other mumblings about information overload and not seeing family or friends.

It’s claustrophobic at times, like on ‘Change’, a scribble of a song where beats cascade seemingly at random but also hit at precisely the right time. “What you gonna do about it?” asks a voice, sounding like Siri after a nos balloon. Restless, uneasy, at times even panicked, James asks more questions than she answers. Like an almost forgotten dream, ‘Reflection’ is there to be interpreted, an abstract portrait of a complicated clubber. 

Sam Davies is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @samdavies313