Anders Trentemøller is hard to figure. As a celebrated DJ and techno producer, Trentemøller has pumped massive festival crowds and splashed forth go-go gaudy remixes of Scandinavian VIPs like The Knife, Röyksopp and Robyn. Meanwhile, as an album artist, the Danish multi-instrumentalist often crafts moody and cinematic tracks, understated vistas better suited to a more intimate stage.
Trentemøller’s third studio album, Lost, finds the musician fully inhabiting both worlds, adopting in-betweenness as a recurring motif in a collection that looks vastly different depending on the context. From one angle, Lost appears to be a polished mix of eye-catching guest tracks and evocative interstitials, while from another the album comes together as a complex and discordant coma dream, with a flow that progresses from sentience to captivity to escape. Haunted by stalkers, doppelgangers and a droning EKG pulse, the entire world of Lost may exist in the profoundest of intermediate conditions: the brink between life and death.
Where are we? Featuring Low, lead track “The Dream” immediately poses that question as Mimi Parker’s timeless heartland vocals take the foreground. Have you come to the right place? “The Dream” could’ve been pulled midstream from the Minnesota band’s C’Mon, a song so very Low the “featuring” designation seems a ruse, setting the stage for listeners to wonder where exactly Anders Trentemøller might be: lost in a setting that presents itself as something it’s not by being exactly what it is.
Though primarily instrumental, Trentemøller’s prior releases interspersed cuts with sharp and cool female vocals, and on Lost the balance shifts in favor of vocal-based tracks. Coming out of “The Dream,” Jana Hunter (of Lower Dens) spooks “Gravity” into a liminal state of becoming, her voice testing limbs and limits above animatronic glitches, hydraulic machinations, and gliding oscillations that give way to a coda of real or synthetic brass, the difference impossible to distinguish.
Whether born of medical catastrophe or simply the subconscious, the dream world of Lost is anything but ethereal. The instrumental “Still On Fire” chimes with River Styx bells and Goth-wired tension, slinking and clawing like a virtual Siouxsie & The Banshees, lacking only a Karin Dreijer Andersson guest vocal to prove a dead-ringer for the real thing. Having proved a polymathic mastery of contemporary techno—from chilly minimalism to the maxxed-out “Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider Go!!!”—Trentemøller situates Lost at past splits in time, first where post-punk and electronic music began to diverge, and then where the electronic world split further into factions of techno and industrial, with the likes of Moev and Clan of Xymox in one clove smoke-filled corner and everything Wax Trax in another.
From those binaries, Lost winds back toward convergences, with “Candy Tongue” emerging like a shadow track from Dummy, where Portishead brought competing influences back into play. Built on a could-be Barrow drum pattern and Marie Fisker’s uncannily Gibbons-like vocal, “Candy Tongue” is kind of freaky. It’s supposed to be kind of freaky. Illusions and footfalls and back alley menace lurk in the throbbing instrumental tracks, and even when the darkwave surge of “Trails” stops dead and reprograms itself in tinkling tingling effusion, the effect isn’t allowed to linger—soon enough, Kazu Makino (of Blonde Redhead) creeps into “Come Undone,” the song dismantling its own narcotic synth patterns as Makino coos “Your voice is my fate/ your touch is my taste/ I only wish to see nothing at all.”
Nothing is what it seems, and Lost coheres in this disorienting netherworld of drastic tempo changes, pachinko synths and 8-bit blips. Attempting to pull singles from the mix spoils some of the magic: “Never Stop Running” captures the quality of flight present in so many dreams, but for a standalone ’80s rip, Jonny Pierce (of the Drums) doesn’t have the pomp or pretension to truly pull off his part. Howard Jones, Holly Johnson, that guy with the hair from the Thompson Twins, those early MTV mods projected like the entire world hung in the balance, but Pierce’s delivery retains an undercurrent of “Let’s Go Surfing” blasé, keeping him from passing for the legitimate (if overwrought) article.
Better than a compilation of parts, Lost reveals itself as a sum with the 13-minute instrumental “Hazed,” a closing track that recapitulates the album’s themes. Offering one last chance for life to pass before a shut pair of eyes, “Hazed” swells toward an Olympian Fuck Buttons peak before letting out its own air, nearly two minutes of dead silence finally giving way to a sonata in flickering black and white, the tape warped by age and era. During those last contemplative notes of piano, if you try to pin down what world Trentemøller belongs to, the answer is this one.