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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Project Pablo - Come to Canada You Will Like It Music Album Reviews

Project Pablo - Come to Canada You Will Like It Music Album Reviews
On an album meant to strike “a balance between rural and city living,” the Canadian producer evokes rural idyll in dozy deep house, but the mood too often verges on soporific.

While house and techno emerged from the staunchly urban settings of New York, Chicago, and Detroit, the countryside played a pivotal role in the second phase of electronic music, as Summer of Love ravers turned England’s farmland and fields into unlikely hotbeds of kick drums and bass.

Project Pablo—aka Vancouver-born, Montreal-based producer Patrick Holland—is almost certainly too young and Canadian to have experienced this. Yet his new album, Come to Canada You Will Like It, speaks to the same mystic pastoralism you can see in footage of those early raves, where dazzled partygoers and early house came together in a rustic techno paradise. Holland has said that the album is “about slowing down while finding a balance between rural and city living”; the record’s cover features a childlike painting of a country cabin under a benevolent yellow blue sky. It might be the least typically techno record sleeve in the past few years of dance music.

This pastoral creep is reflected in Come to Canada’s 10 sprawling tracks, which seem to suggest house music if it had been raised on a diet of fresh fruit and outdoor exercise rather than gay clubs and city basements. While British raves mixed the thrilling rush of illegality with their bucolic charm, Come to Canada suggests the well-worn idea of the rural idyll, all yawning pace and dappled green. The familiar elements that have made Project Pablo’s music so inviting are present and correct—the wandering bass lines, jazzy chords, and subtly swinging drums—but they feel laid back to the point of sloth, with all the energy of a cat catching 40 winks in a suntrap.

“Tunstall,” for example, is recognizably house music, thanks to its 4/4 beat and bongo lilt. But it sounds utterly unconcerned whether you dance or not, its noodling touches quite happy to wander along with little in the way of build or friction. The same format is repeated throughout the album: Drums skip by contentedly, synth chords lend a suggestion of melody, a bass line ambles, and jazzy keyboards solo away, all without a care in the world.

There’s something to be said for such stylistic consistency—it holds the album together well—but it feels limiting over the course of 10 tracks. What is initially lush and golden rapidly pales to a gilded froth. Electronic music can often get away with extreme tonal minimalism, thanks to its percussive thrust. But Come to Canada has none of the energy of earlier Project Pablo songs like “Movin’ Out” or “Is It Dry?” and the album’s palette isn’t particularly rewarding, either. “Fine Match,” for all its melodic charm, resembles an Air demo before the French duo have applied their studio magic. You frequently find yourself longing for some level of detail that might lift the songs above their basic level of affable stodge.

There are some lovely moments on Come to Canada. Holland is a gifted melodicist, and you can hear it on “Intro,” which resembles Boards of Canada with all the menace surgically removed, or the warmly wistful “Nanana,” while “To Sealeigh and Back” has a brilliantly fluttering hi-hat sequence. But there is no urgency, no feeling that this music simply had to exist. Holland has described Come to Canada as “a collection of songs that I’ve been sitting on for a while,” and it feel exactly like that: a selection of perfectly inoffensive tracks that could have stayed locked on his hard drive without too much disappointment.

Canada has a reputation—generally ill-informed, and often lampooned by Canadians themselves—for politeness. And, as promised by Holland’s surely tongue-in-cheek title, Come to Canada is perfectly likable and nice. But for base thrills, edge, and energy, you might want to look elsewhere.

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