Switched On – Balance presents Sunstrip mixed by Hernán Cattáneo

Various Artists: Balance presents Sunstrip mixed by Hernán Cattáneo (Balance)

What’s the story?

Argentine DJ Hernán Cattáneo links up with the Australian label Balance once again, returning to the double-set format for the first time in two years. His two mixes clock in at over two and half hours, focusing mostly on the deeper side of house music but with plenty of room for development.

What’s the music like?

In a word, consistent. The first three minutes of Cattáneo’s first mix set out a dreamy picture before the appearance of a reassuringly strong kick drum to get things going. Mariana Mellino & Interaxxis’ ‘Andromeda’ offers a sign of the steady tightening of intensity the Argentinian does so well, and we move smoothly through nice squiggles from Juan Hansen’s ‘Hiding Sun’, which hits a peak with some Depeche Mode-like vocals.

The mix presses on with the warm and fuzzy combination of the Kevin Di Serna tracks ‘4 Meditation’, which has a lovely sweep through space in its breakdown, and ‘System Era’ works well. Fellow countrymen Soundexile offer two tracks together, ‘Glide’ seguing effortlessly into the classy ‘Stimulation’, a lovely easy groove, before Cattáneo finishes part one with a curveball, Mercurio’s cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ sung by Anita Alvarez de Toledo.

The second mix is immediately more urgent, and gets off to a great start with Mike Griego feat. Paula Os and ‘Headspace’. The tempo is quicker and the percussion up a gear, as though the sun has set and we are heading into the night. The powerful sweep of ‘Dissolved In You’ by Brian Cid carries all before it, the producer reappearing later with the brooding ‘Rebirth’. Cid Inc – no relation – impresses with the shimmering textures of ‘Forgotten’, while there is an unexpected but welcome cover of The Cure’s ‘A Forest’ from COLLE. Finally Soundexile return with Wind Down (Outro Mix), the lights going up as the mix fades into the distance.

Does it all work?

Effortlessly so, thanks to Cattáneo’s experienced head. The pacing of each mix is spot on, the peaks and breakdowns expertly managed, while the beats and harmonic structure are spot on. The cover of ‘White Rabbit’ might split opinion but this is an extremely solid selection.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Cattáneo has built up great judgement on how to pace a commercial mix, and his instincts are sound here. Consistency is the key throughout!

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You can get this album from Beatport here

Switched On – Emme: Into The Darkness (Modularfield)

What’s the story?

Berlin-based Argentinian Emme releases Into The Darkness, an album looking at the connection between intimate thought and the vastness of outer space. In the space of seven tracks and 36 minutes her music looks to reflect these contrasts through close-up observations and big sonic spaces.

What’s the music like?

Not as dark as the title implies, with a satisfying blend of movement and stillness. Insert The Chip and Earth Calling might be remote soundscapes suspended in air, but second track Discovery is the clincher. As it starts you might relax into thinking this will be a very slow moving, star-gazing album, but then the beat drops and the perception changes immediately. With this kinetic energy at her disposal Emme develops Into the Darkness as a dub-infused journey, while Blank Point goes further still, underpinned by a broken beat with distortion overlapping its broad riff.

As the album develops several ‘80s influences are revealed – Blancmange and OMD among them – but Emme forges an individual path while including these. The expansive XH-28:A is a case in point, as it breaks down to a solo from a plucked string instrument – mandolin or violin, I suspect – and is soon joined by an analogue set of drum fills.

The biggest track, When the Wind Whispers, feels like a collection of different viewpoints, with no drums but a restless movement between different ideas and timbres.

Does it all work?

Most of the time. There is a lot of variety here, almost with the danger of the musical styles becoming disjointed – and at 36 minutes it does feel like an extended EP rather than a fully blown album. That said, Into The Darkness has impressive ambition and despite the moments of thick ambience, Emme conjures up impressive tension and restlessness.

Is it recommended?

Yes, for the consistently interesting corners to its slightly ragged construction. Emme’s spirit of discovery should be applauded and noted for future releases.

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Switched On – Line Spectrum: Bruma (Glacial Movements)

What’s the story?

On their website Glacial Movements describe Bruma as ‘an album of exploration. Somewhere cold and safe’. It is the work of Ukrainian artist Oleg Puzan, whose approach is less obviously musical, building sound pictures through a massive array of small figures and bigger, weather-like effects.

What’s the music like?

Atmospheric. You will not find much in the way of obvious melody or harmony, but that is not a criticism, more an observation of the way Puzan works. The development of each of the five tracks on the album is strangely compelling, though each are closely linked together, the change between tracks coming at very definite time divisions. Although Bruma – which appears to mean a kind of sleep or hibernation – seems set to function as background music its very different textures and panoramas mean it has to be listened to in the foreground, dominating the headphones as it moves from comforting sounds to more ominous drones that approach from the distance.

A Set Of Events At The Shore, evocatively titled, is the first track, and as outlined above it is all about atmosphere and noise, creating a space with running water and natural noises – but compromising it with a not altogether pleasant drone that makes itself known quite high up the spectrum.

An intense experience on headphones, with some thick ambience but also what feels like white noise and interference as Fabric Merge progresses. No melodies as such but concentrated atmospheres. Ways gets thicker still, but the ambience and cold acoustic is more reassuring, and one that as a listener you want to dive into, with a rich chord growing to encompass the whole audible picture. The fourth track, Fluidity, has the flow of cold water in a regular pattern to sooth the mind, leading to the 15-minute final track Quietness. This is comforting but only to a point,with a disquieting sense of danger around the edge, as though you’re in a place you don’t want to get marooned in.

Does it all work?

Yes, providing you’re in the right mood. Some of the more high pitched sounds do actually become challenging after a while, but are essential to the whole experience.

Is it recommended?

Yes, because of the intensity of its ambience, though the manipulation of the many sounds on Bruma will not be to every listener’s taste.

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Switched On – Albrecht La’Brooy: Healesville (Apollo)

What’s the story?

Albrecht La’Brooy – the Melbourne duo of Sean La’Brooy and Alex Albrecht – bring this 40-minute album of improvised ambience to calm our nerves. Their Spotify biography tells the real story, describing an approach looking to ‘modernise the classic jazz format while walking ambient music through the rainforest and down to the shore. Absorbing Australia’s landscape to craft enlightened, on the fly performances that are never to be missed and never to be repeated’.

What’s the music like?

‘Natural ambience’ is the most appropriate description, for the music is rooted in field recordings made by the pair. On Healesville these include noises associated with tending the land – a tractor is especially prominent – but also a wider sound scape which includes bird noises, indistinct voices and other sounds caught on the breeze. Above this are long, held notes, a slightly shrill bird-like sound and softly intoned piano unisons or chords with plenty of sustain, which unfold like an improvised chorale. The held notes behind can range from one single pitch to thicker clumps but always feel consonant in their make-up.

The fact that two of the five tracks on this album bear the word ‘lullaby’ tells a lot of the mood and tempo at which Albrecht La’Brooy operate, but as well as relaxation there is positive energy to be found in abundance, especially in the piano playing. Sean’s Lullaby may have a good deal of reverb, but its stream of consciousness respectfully echoes Satie and Debussy.

Does it all work?

Healesville is a supremely calming listen, experienced at its best on the morning commute but equally effective in a quiet room. It sets an incredibly restful outdoor scene, making the listener feel as though they are lying on their back in a field with no reason to get up any time soon.

Is it recommended?

Yes, and especially to every commuter whose fevered brow needs soothing!

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Switched On – Mount Liberation Unlimited: Mount Liberation Unlimited (Studio Barnhus)

What’s the story?

Mount Liberation are from Stockholm, Sweden, and they make music best described with the words ‘space’, ‘funk’ and ‘percussion’ in the same sentence. Tom Lagerman and Niklas Janzon used to be in a band together but found they were enjoying themselves too much in their new project, signing to Axel Boman’s Studio Banhus label. This is their self-titled debut album.

What’s the music like?

Mount Liberation Unlimited is a thrilling ride. Bolstered by heaps of live percussion, their take on space disco is packed with riffs, quirky harmonic asides and a strong rhythmic base. Welcome To Organic is a great illustration of their approach, with a breezy hook, cut up vocal, beefed up percussion and a feelgood vibe – yet if anything it is eclipsed by Gospel (Makes My Body Move In Sinful Ways), a particularly funky number with filtering and drum fills to work an absolute treat on the dancefloor.

Prozac is similarly full of upward looking sentiments, ‘Krauten’ has a driving bass and solid drum track that would do the likes of Justice proud, while later on Techno Thrills and Ecstasy Pills ends in a lush, Balearic warmth giving the effect of a sonic bath to the headphone listener.

Does it all work?

It’s irresistible. Any album that has the ability to put a smile on its listener’s face within five minutes has to be admired, and not only do the pair manage that but they maintain the feeling even in tracks like the seven minute Climb Me Up, with its twinkling xylophones.

Is it recommended?

This is an excellent piece of work that repays multiple listens. Its organic approach, hook-laden and cunningly developed with a healthy sense of humour, is to be admired. Most of all it’s a heap of fun!

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