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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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Sinjin Haw/keZora Jones - Vicious Circles EP Music Album Reviews


In their latest joint release, Kanye producer Sinjin Hawke and Jlin collaborator Zora Jones combine human voices and digital processing to manifest a seamless fusion of flesh and code.

In Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, the transhuman takes many forms, but it often begins as light: a glowing presence detected deep inside one’s own person or a shimmering apparition that comes twitching across the sky. Something similar happens in the work of Sinjin Hawke and Zora Jones, which combines human voices and digital processing in a seamless fusion of flesh and code. In the silvery edges of their sound, you can feel something manifesting itself—a shape-shifting entity, a cybernetic skin wrapped around a molten core.

Hawke and Jones have been pursuing their mercurial instincts for a few years now, across a number of different configurations—solo, as a duo, and in various one-off collaborations (Jones with Jlin, Murlo, and La Zowi; Hawke with DJ Rashad, Just Blaze, and Mike Q). Jones’ edits of artists like Sasha Go Hard and E-40 catch drops of inspiration from regional rap styles and distill them into her own brittle and glistening brand of club music, while Hawke’s production work for Kanye has helped his trademark choral leads to bubble up into the mainstream.

This is the duo’s first long-form collaboration outside Fractal Fantasy, the audiovisual project that doubles as a research unit into sound, image, and technology. The fruits of that labor were on view in a striking performance at Barcelona’s Sónar festival this summer in which their avatars, projected on a screen over their heads, rippled like CGI phosphorescence. Jones’ gestures, captured by a video camera, allowed her to manipulate synth leads as though playing an invisible theremin. There is no visual component to Vicious Circles beyond its blue-lit, sweat-slicked cover image, but the music is imbued with a similarly spectral energy, as though she and Hawke were plucking vibrations out of thin air.

While many electronic producers fetishize bass, it’s the treble register that preoccupies Hawke and Jones. Vicious Circles swims in high-end riffs that move like beads of quicksilver: digitized flutes, chirping roto-toms, streaky lightning-bolt synths. The eponymous opener balances plunging sub-bass with percussion that flashes—and disorients—like strobe lights; built on a technique long present in Hawke and Jones’ work, the melody suggests a cyborg castrato. “Lurk 101” is folded around a blippy son clave pattern that gets spun into increasingly convoluted permutations. In “God,” a Bulgarian choir sample is chopped to ribbons over shuddering drums and synth blasts, but what sounds almost bombastic at first quickly flips into a surprisingly slinky, dancehall-inflected rhythm. Hawke and Jones are maximalists who delight in pulling the rug out from beneath the monoliths they build.

They like their tracks short—nothing here runs much longer than three minutes—and they have a mischievous way of teasing listeners’ expectations, building tension by stacking crescendo upon crescendo and then switching course without ever offering anything like a release. The resulting constructions feel a bit like one of Escher’s staircases, constantly ascending, constantly building toward a climax that never comes. The technique can occasionally be frustrating. The two-and-a-half-minute “Baby Boy Sosa,” in which rave stabs and processed voices are smeared in gelatinous textures over staccato trap drums, refuses to fully take shape; there’s a glimmer of something bigger there, but it remains obscured behind the streaks and curlicues.

But this disinclination to indulge any instinctive craving for resolution sets up the closing “And You Were One” to sound even bigger and more triumphant than it already is. Here, at last, they pull out all the stops, bringing all their tricks—the chimes, the zigzagging synth leads, the hiccuping robots—to bear on a song you could almost imagine playing on pop radio. “Would you feel better?” chirps an Auto-Tuned voice, and that small gesture toward intimacy works wonders. The strangeness of their approach takes an almost feel-good form; the cold, clinical light that suffuses the EP softens into a warm, rosy glow. Despite the hard angles and unfamiliar textures that are at the forefront of all their work, Hawke and Jones seem to say, there’s nothing to fear in these artificial worlds: The alien was inside us all along.

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