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Hanna - Demur EP Music Album Reviews

Cleveland producer Warren Harris pushes the deep house sound into rhythmical challenges and brilliantly gothic alcoves with the apparent nonchalance of someone barely breaking a sweat.

House music lyrics, with the odd notable exception, tend to be light, functional affairs, full of incitements to dance and enjoy the good times. “Game of Tragic,” the final track on Cleveland house producer Warren Harris’ Demur EP, is talking about suicide. “Take away, the smell is foul/Put the flesh in the ground/Suicide,” Harris sings, his untampered, soulful voice duetting with a separate vocal line that is sandpaper rough and reeks of desperation.

Harris, who records as Hanna and under his own name, does admittedly have a history of producing deep house that mixes the stately smooth with the immaculately melancholy. His 2017 EP The Never End housed one of the most moving summer laments in electronic music in “July”, while “Wayfaring Man,” from the inappropriately named Bounce EP, sounded like the work of someone who wanted to get well away from the troubles of the world.

All the same, “Game of Tragic” goes further than Harris—or pretty much anyone else in house music—has gone before in its embrace of mortality, the contrast between the skipping house beat and morbid lyrics both eye-opening and brave. Harris has explained that the song is about a person who lives with the body of their best friend after they have killed themselves and there is something rather punk in the way “Game of Tragic” rejects what house music should be about in favor of following its own emotional instincts. This would mean little, though, were the lyrics not backed by Harris’ poignant songwriting, the winding chords, meandering bass line and mournful vocal melody proving one in the eye for those who feel that electronic music can only deal with shallow emotions.

The other four tracks on Demur see Harris swap lyrical experimentation for musical exposition, as he loosens his rhythmical swing to a point where his productions feel on the verge of falling apart. “Finger of Love,” for example, features a disco-influenced pattern of bass drum, hi-hat, and snare that, on the face of it, sounds fairly standard. But each instrument hits in a way that feels a fraction away from going out of time, like a jazz drummer playing around the beat rather than square on the four. The effect, for an audience raised on the rhythmical perfection of electronic music, is of unease, fascination, and frenetic excitement. “The Sacred” takes things even further by threatening to pull the whole fabric of the song out of time. The bass drum only just connects with the hi-hat, which is on nodding terms with the piano, while a vocal loop pulls fractionally behind the rest of the song as the ensemble hangs on by the skin of its teeth.

Experimentation in electronic music is full of flash and bluster. But Harris favors progression by stealth, his productions on Demur pushing the deep house sound into rhythmical challenges and brilliantly gothic alcoves with the apparent nonchalance of someone barely breaking a sweat. You have to lean in to discover the wonders of Demur. But the reward is one of the most quietly brilliant, viscerally exciting and humanly funky house records of 2018.

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