Album Review: Hard Mix – Defaults

Hard Mix: Defaults (Dovecote Records)

Essentially, all modern music has it’s roots in an older style, and that older style has it’s roots in something that came along even earlier. Like most things, this progression allows one to build on the ideas of the past, making them better, worse, or sometimes just different. Unfortunately, it has been quite fashionable lately to simply replicate a musical style from the past, giving us way to many “neo-this” and “neo-that” genres. In many cases, “neo” can’t even be applied, because nothing new has been added. Look at the resurgence of sound-alike 80’s revival tunes that have been shit out in the past few years, for example. However, all hope is not lost. There are artists out there that handle retro themes in ways that makes songs not just recycled older tracks, but new sounds utilizing past elements.

Hard Mix would be one of these artists. The Greenville, South Carolina native has been known to create sample-based chill-pop/downtempo/beat-style tracks that rely heavily on layering to create a certain mood or effect. The addition of soulful vocals also gave a sense of warmth and depth to many of his earlier tracks, and while this remains true on Defaults, there is an added energy in each piece on the album. Many tracks now contain bits from a very upbeat time in dance music history, making for quite a different listening experience.

Most noticeable to Defaults are the samples, progressions, and sounds from early house and rave music. The types of synth-stabs and piano lines, along with ringing vocals, ever prevalent in classic songs from the era of underground electronic and club music have made for a subtle explosion within this album. You won’t find many tracks with the usual 4/4 beat associated with house music or the sped up breakbeats of 90’s rave on this release, however. The overall cadence and washed-out feel of Hard Mix’s earlier releases remain, but the use of these energetic layers makes the tracks pop, instead of just swelling into one another. In many ways, the textures make for an almost bittersweet experience. The presence of the aforementioned dance staples make one part of you feel excited and ready to move, but the rest of that track may be so reverbed and expansive that everything remains grounded in a sense of spacey longing. Songs like “Memories” and “I’m Gone” capture this feeling most effectively. Because of this, these tracks are two of the best on an album that contains ten excellent songs.

Not every track is based on these added snippets, however. There are songs on this release that are much more subdued, but those are just as good. The album opener, for example, is based on delicate piano leads and strange, reversed vocals. It doesn’t seem to matter where Hard Mix heads on Defaults, because it all works together as a whole. The album itself is like a short trip back and forth between past and present, yet it always leaves you wondering exaclty where you are.

So although most of the songs do glance back at an earlier era, Defaults is by no means a classic house throwback album. And don’t think the spaciness and retro feel make for another dime-a-dozen chillwave release, either. Everything has been tweaked to the point that something new has been created. The samples have effects poured over them, allowing them to come and go or echo out into oblivion. Because the album’s beats per minute are so much slower than most dance-oriented electronic music, it almost sounds ghostly, especially in comparison. It can only make the listener assume Hard Mix meant to call upon those spirits of the past, but he did not want to let them take over.

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