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Project Pablo - Inside Unsolved EP Music Album Reviews

The Montreal producer pays tribute to the classic sound of two bygone Canadian techno labels, yielding some of the liveliest music in his catalog yet.

More than engineered emotion or physical release, producer Patrick Holland’s hazy, unhurried house music tends to evoke a sense of place. The reference points, particularly under his Project Pablo project, are often autobiographical: earworm melodies and jazzy grooves that reflect his native Vancouver, where he grew up listening to live bands and breezy, West Coast house; wandering basslines and fuzzy textures that soundtrack urban Montreal, where he’s lived and deejayed since 2014; and the sleepy, pastoral expanse that exists between the two (his mellow 2018 album, Come to Canada You Will Like It, was a tribute to rural chill).


Most of these productions, while imaginative and inviting, aren’t engrossing enough to send you rushing across the border. But Inside Unsolved, Holland’s new EP for Spectral Sound, offers a refreshingly edgy and stirring glimpse at Canada’s eccentric underground. This time, he reaches outside of his own narrative and revisits the country’s musical past—specifically the mid 1990s to early 2000s, when experimental, minimalist house and techno thrived in once-bustling steel towns. The resulting EP—part tribute, part reinterpretation—hat-tips a few of the influences that made Montreal the dance-music hotbed it is today.

The project unfolds in four distinct tracks, each with its own vibe, like rooms in a labyrinthine warehouse party. You begin in the middle of the action. “The Solution,” a hypnotic, acid-laced techno groove, is about as big a dancefloor moment raw as we’ve seen from Holland—bouncy, structured, immediate—and drizzles woozy melodies over concrete, shuffling rhythms. Fluttering whistles and billowing synths make it feel alive and oddly pretty, like smokestack clouds floating over an industrial skyline. For an artist who occasionally veers from low-key to soporific, the song feels like an awakening.

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Elsewhere, the mood is more far out. “Pill” and “Big Room Delusion” rattle with dizzying, mechanical polyrhythms, like wandering around a factory floor. The beats are somewhat secondary, overpowered by the synthesizers’ twinkling arpeggios, scurrying scales, and dissipating echoes. The sensation is busy but emotionless, like the unconscious energy of an ambling machine. Both songs carry on a little too long, until the activity begins to feel slightly claustrophobic. But perhaps that’s a part of being in a place, too. Sometimes, you overstay your welcome and find yourself scanning for the exits.

Holland said that he was specifically inspired by two Canadian labels: Steel City Records, a mid-’90s techno outlet from Hamilton, Ontario, that took cues from nearby Detroit, and Vancouver’s Map Music, home to off-kilter, adventurous productions that delighted in chaos. Both of these labels have been defunct for years, but in the scenes and cities that fostered them, their presence can still be felt. By paying homage to the past, Holland also manages to bring the labels’ visions back to life, funnelling their outsider, industrial energy into loopy, danceable new songs to be spread through clubs and warehouses around the world. On the buoyant and glistening “Pressure No Impact,” a daydream of a track, the mood is at once nostalgic and hopeful: Are the pitter-pattering chimes and pipes echoes of a bygone era, or perhaps, a pulse?


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