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White Noise: Pangaea – Release

Friday, 9 November 2012

Pangaea – Release

Label: Hessle

If any one label could be said to have truly had its finger on the pulse of UK dance music over the last few years, it’s safe to say Hessle Audio would be one of the prime contenders. Run by the triple threat of Pangaea, Pearson Sound and Ben UFO; Hessle has proved continually one step ahead of the curve, covering the darkest, strangest corners of house, techno and bass music while always remaining dedicated to the dancefloor. Not only has it always been on top with releases, but two of its founders (Ben UFO has made his name entirely on his DJing skills up to this point) can be said to be a couple of the UK scene’s most consistently brilliant and innovative producers. Pangaea has only ever released top quality material, albeit on an unusually slow release schedule, and has skirted ever closer to the sketchy leftfield edges of techno across that time.

So here Kevin McAuley steps up to the plate, offering 45 minutes (a double-EP, not an album) of twitchy, surprising, and deeply atmospheric material on Hessle’s longest release to date. Although all swathed in a trademark darkness, these sounds have a new rough-hewn edge more in keeping with today’s sounds. On top of that, Release never suffers from a lack of variation; the tone may be unrelentingly black but there are enough ideas here to satisfy the harshest critics.

On Trouble McAuley wears the jungle / dark garage influences on his sleeve; conjuring that same overpowering dread with the ominous rising synthlines that haunt those restless beats. Later on Middleman the clipped vocal swims to the surface of an eerie synth loop accompanied by some killer snares; before the emergence of a deeply unsettling bass squelch later in the tune. These more overt dance cuts make up both the best and worst of Release: while stellar dancefloor weapon Majestic 12 sets frantic snares over a hard-as-nails kick sped all the way up to 140, reigned over by inspired filtering synthwork. On the flipside opener Game feels oddly cheap; Missy Elliott’s undeniably catchy vocal sample feels cheapened by a fairly standard UK Funky beat and rattling sub-bass.

 EP Clips

Despite that single misstep, listeners should expect the same superb quality of sound engineering and precision that goes into every Hessle release. Pangaea has a way with the little details, and an unerring ear for mood that means the unsettling vibes won’t start to wear thin even after 45 minutes. That said, for me it’s when McAuley tries something a little different that he really excels. The title track opens with an impressively detailed beatless sequence that occupies the tune’s first half, before it finally kicks into gear with some dominating sub-bass made all the more effective for the excellent build-up. This eye for the ambient is returned to on the unexpected yet brilliant closer High, where a deep ambient rumble leads into a phenomenal vocal sample that comes out of nowhere.

Although this is a top-notch release in terms of production technique and dancefloor material, it’s only on that final track that Pangaea really feels like he’s creating something entirely new, and tellingly it also feels like the most personal cut on the EP. As a result Release is easy to like but hard to love, but stick to those gems and admire the method in these eight tracks and it’s certainly hard to be anything but impressed. Let’s hope McAuley takes these ambient explorations further in the future.


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