In psychoanalytic theory, reality testing is a function of the mind that essentially allows one to differentiate between the real world and the individual, imagined world. The concept implies that the psychological self functions in both the real world and in a person’s mind. Lone’s Reality Testing features this existence between different states and the blurring of boundaries between them.
The follow-up to his last album Galaxy Garden, Reality Testing is simultaneously a progression and a side-step for Matt Cutler’s project. Where Galaxy Garden was an out-of-this-world, rave-influenced ride, Reality Testing is a more subdued, ethereal, and hip-hop-tinged environment. Even their album covers reflect this: the cover for Galaxy Garden features a colorful and alien sculpture in space, while that of Reality Testing features the real world in greyscale next to an amalgam of colorful lights. The album sees Cutler combining the bright, spacious synths and textures of techno and house with the grounded, physical beats and atmosphere of hip-hop to create tracks that could be described as Madlib collaborating with Boards of Canada.
The album starts off with the ambient “First Born Seconds” and the bouncy “Restless City”, which lives up to its name. The beat stays constant, providing us a backdrop to the elements in the track not unlike an urban landscape. The pianos, synths, and samples of someone saying “when I say real, I mean reality real” shift in and out of focus, giving listeners the impression of the people within a city. In “Meeker Warm Energy”, the sauntering beat, along with the warm synths and what sounds like the crackle of old records, combine to create a warm environment.
“Aurora Northern Quarter” features electric-piano stabs that are reminiscent of Carl Craig’s work combined with drums that sound like they were sampled from an old funk record used in an East Coast hip-hop track. The two contrasting elements combine to create a dreamlike atmosphere, and the track even features a voice that whispers “Close your eyes” to listeners. “2 Is 8” has the bounce and playfulness of classic hip-hop instrumentals, but halfway through the track, the beat resolves into a wave of warm, ambient synthesizers that wouldn’t be out of place in a Boards of Canada album.
“Airglow Fires”, the centerpiece of the album, naturally shifts between electronic ambience, dance-oriented bliss, and even beats that have the oomph of boom-bap. But the connection to hip-hop is deeper than that: Lone samples Joeski Love’s “Pee-Wee’s Dance”, a track sampled in J Dilla’s “Anti-American Graffiti” and “The Twister (Huh What)”. “Coincidences” varies between a hip-hop pace and a dance-oriented speed to connect the dots between house and hip-hop.
“Begin to Begin” features jazz-oriented rhythms alongside a syncopated synth pattern, both of which dance around each other to create a disorienting yet lively rhythm. Once again, the theme of dreams and the real world pop up when a voice wonders, “Am I dreaming? Am I awake?” “Jaded” juxtaposes a forlorn, descending bass line with upbeat, bell-like melodies that travel upward, providing another example of Lone’s use of contrasts in this album. “Vengeance Video”, the most dance oriented track on this record, features four-on-the-floor house with clear synth arpeggios. “Cutched Under”, the last track on the album, reminds me of a more low-key track from Galaxy Garden, a fitting way to end the record.
To fully appreciate this record, I recommend using headphones. With headphones, the sonic choices Cutler makes become clear: you can appreciate the tension between clean synth patterns and visceral beats appreciable, the warmth and fuzz of the tracks, and the world the album creates in your head. On Reality Testing, Lone combines the earthly with the ethereal to simulate how dreams and real life intersect with each other, to masterfully show that the relationship between the imagined world and the real world is not so one-dimensional.