Hidden Spheres - Breathing Deep (Oath, 2020)
One of dance music's most distinctive voices turns it up a notch on this stellar debut EP on the new Oath Imprint.
House music is indeed a feeling, and for some they have made it their life's work to keep that fire very much alive and kicking. It's always a delight to see how various producers or groups look to include emotive tools into their work, a balance between hitting it in the mental sweet spot but also get the bones moving, a relationship that is sometimes balanced perfectly or left leaning to one side with equally excellent results. You want the dynamic to last forever, when a track is able to sweep you off your feet with its swelling melodic nature, wrapping itself around the dance floor or living room with all the ease and tenderness in the world, crafting a moment for us all to remember with big old smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts. The overall picture in these kinds of tracks remains one of sonic delicacy, where tone and mood feel expertly considered amongst a percussive structure that acts rhythmically dense to match, with the dynamic one of gentle interaction and soothing narratives. Within house, many contemporary music makers have explored these notions, with inspiration coming from the Jazz house and Broken Beat movements of the late 90s, both genres pairing soft chordal interplay with inventive percussion which when paired together make for some very interesting listening indeed. Its a relationship that certainly has no end in sight in regards to possibility, with all manner of representations popping up since that point in time, and these kinds of records have always done much to push the genre forward to new and exciting places. There's always space in the heart to accommodate dance music that emphasises melodic progression and feel as much as the beats that reside underneath, and its these kinds of records that always catch the eye and connect us into the world that is being crafted. The variations in drumming flow, the density of melodic features, the elements that reside somewhere in the middle, all contribute to audial experiences that are phenomenally enriching, crafting a depth like no other, music that becomes something to truly believe in as time passes by. The music feels alive, organic and vibrant, a sense that all the elements were plucked from nature and injected into the music, a network of little pieces of intrigue all working together to create something truly memorable. We always come back round to these kinds of artists, not just for the excellent music but also for the development of the sound from release to release - how will they serve up something familiar but fresh at the same time? when operating within these realms, there is a lot to play around with, and many producers have made it their mission to serve up brilliant music every single time. Like chapters in their narrative, a different side each time, brimming with new worlds and contexts to explore, warm sounds for which to immerse yourself in, every time taking a new approach to a winning formula that becomes very easy for listeners to endear themselves too.
For some time now, Tom Harris has been exploring these kinds of threads and essences within his music, and its from these micro evolutions within his releases that has allowed his musical voice to stand out above the rest. Harris releases his music primarily as Hidden Spheres, and this name has become a household one in recent years, due to the brand identity that has become associated with it - one of dreamy, jazzy house excellence, with a hint of deep hues and tones that permeate through foundations of brilliant grooves and pulses. His work is immediately embracing, in which fuzzy chordal progressions do their magic in regard to emotive release, alongside drumming patterns that remain continually dynamic, with these two core elements coming together to represent music that has real substance and flavour behind it. Harris is always keen to evoke varying experiences within his work, with the core tenants of his style standing true throughout his discography, but with all the variations occurring in the layered delivery of tones and melodic features, with each release feeling like a self contained experience for us all to venture out on. Its via this willingness to really explore the depths and possibilities of his sound which has drawn so many to Harris and his Hidden Spheres name, like a light source his music radiates goodness to all, be it a warm summer evening or breezy late night set, his music remains a near perfect companion for any context you might find yourself in. If you require music that tugs at the heart strings, music to shed a tear too, a tune to lead you to the outer limits of joy and happiness, or simply something to accommodate your daily time to yourself, then there really is all you can eat within his discography, so much so is the extents of the melodic and emotionally explored brilliance found within the Hidden Spheres back catalogue. At times more straight up, at other moments rhythmically and melodically rich, there really is all you can ask for within his music, and Harris has supplied some of the genre's most memorable moments in recent years. Looking back through his works, pretty much all of them are absolute stand outs, with our favourites including his excellent debut, 'Waiting', that landed in 2015; the more straight up and get down energy of 'The Bloos EP', that landed in the same year; the sheer deep house genius of the 2016 RS release 'Well Well', with the title track being one of this reviewer's favourites of his; the sublime 'By & Bye' record from 2017; the equally brilliant 'It ain't Easy' record, that landed in the same year; both of his releases on his own imprint, Fruit Merchant, that includes 2018s 'Wonders of The Rainforest' and the 'Spok EP' releases (be sure to check out the rest of the label, its all excellent!); and finally, the very memorable '1985' EP that landed earlier this year. To look back at his works is to re-explore the essences that drive house and deep house, its tone and emotion something which if explored to its fullest can lead to the most breath taking of results. Harris has always injected so much feel and meaning into his music, and he does so by weaving emotive sequences within naturally evolving songs that are so satisfying to delve within, their nature so well crafted as to not make the notion of repeat listening obsolete. You can always revisit these tracks and feel a certain way, perhaps the way you felt when you first listened to them, or that moment you stared into the clouds and drifted off, or when you started moving your hips deep in the dance as one of his cuts floated through the speakers. Music found within Harris' realm is always something special, and if you fancy exploring some of the best house going in recent years, then you need look no further.
So now we arrive at his latest offering, 'Breathing Deep', a record that also represents the debut offering from the Oath imprint. As ever, the threads of melodic breeziness come over very strong indeed, with the keys and chords sublime and present, alongside some inspired beat structures that once again are crafted superbly, and in true Hidden Spheres fashion you always leave the track in the most fulfilled way possible. Every space and sequence feels considered an placed to perfection, each groove and progression timed and nurtured like no other, the experience overall yet another marvel to add to his already future classic level discography. Melody and feel galore, this record will wrap you within its warm embrace, as swirling hypnotic sounds work their way between the layers within a sea of sound that feels so visceral, so pure and joyous. So, without further delay, lets get into this slice of heaven.
Up first comes the title track, and we immediately descend into the midst of a stone cold groove. The fast paced hat runs through the middle, as all manner of expressive toms and snares reverb around the pulse, one that feels like its constantly moving and swirling to the rhythm, crafting a bedrock of percussion that is overflowing with energy. In true Spheres fashion, the melodic features aren't far behind at all, with the high line key sequence leading into the soft chords that blend themselves into the rhythmic backdrop, and this quiet swelling of sound leads to the kicks emerging underneath, consolidating all the wonderful feels that are grooving along on top. The track takes a percussive breather for a moment, before leading back into things, except this time we have the additional vibraphone to add further intrigue and flavour to proceedings, with all the textures in the world meeting in perfect harmony within this certain structure. The stabby chord that swings into view adds further to the sense of rhythm and progression, crafting an experience that works on so many levels, as vocal elements and backdrop chords start to emerge which expands the worlds just that little bit more. The new features all begin to lead into this swelling of melody that keeps on building and building before dramatically stopping, in order for the track to draw focus towards a rhythmically lead series of progressions, in which the vibe becomes more dubby and deepset. The acid line then starts to showcase itself, as the little key line remains alongside the stabs that re emerge, crafting a picture that focuses more on sonics than melodic development, and remains a perfect counterpart to all the warmth that exuded from the first half of the track. Damn. Up next comes 'Tiamo', and we begin in the deepets of hues, the warmest of the colour palette. The chord progression resides within a sea of light breezy percussive features (sounds like Castanets?), with distant loops capturing further our imaginations, along side light guitar riffs gently swaying in the breeze, its quite something when it all begins to bind together. As we start to familiarise ourselves with the beauty that is unravelling, the track really lands itself into the realms of sheer excellence with the vocals, whos presence soars and bellows out above an already expansive soundscape that exists underneath. After this initial swell, we move back into a more stripped back sequence, where the rhythmic progression becomes the focus of proceedings, the guitar and light key layers taking the lead as we drift within the mood of it all. The bass line then shifts back into view, and this signals all the melodic features to make their return, the vocal line making its presence known one final time, as the track then sees itself out the door, happy to bring its joy to other distant places.
Next comes 'Ruhani', and we arrive in a very dense percussive soundscape indeed. The drums are extremely rich and clear, with so many layers existing within its structure, providing something you can really get within and explore, and before long the chord structure kicks in, signalling the track to move into its fully realised groove. The keys are quite laid back, moving between two chords, which still means much of the focus is left for the excellent drums, that have so much energy found within your eyes and ears are on full alert, mesmerised by their sonic appeal. All the while, we see the acid line begin to chime into proceedings, doing a superb job at matching the drumming patterns and chordal lines, acting almost as a thread that brings all the elements and features together. The additional key line adds further flavour and momentum, drawing attention towards a big field of view, as we move out of the drums influence for a moment and take it all in, before descending right back into the breakdown. The drums take on a mind of their own, as the acid line begins to weave its way into our subconscious, never faltering in its quest to achieve dubby enriching perfection, and we are all for it. Spheres then takes time to reintroduce wonderfully rich synths and keys into the mix, the swells that occur between the blends something to behold and enjoy over and over, and the track plays out in this fashion, its message read loud and clear. Superb. To finish up, we have the sounds found within 'Believe', and we arrive in distinctly Hidden Spheres territory. The loose drumming pattern perfectly fits with the relaxed chords that become overlaid, the two features working in perfect harmony with each other, providing a lot of space in which key lines, drumming fills and saxes can fill with all the heart in the world. The track moves from the sax solo and swings back into its bare boned groove, the elements laid on top adding further intrigue and engagement, as Spheres reintroduces past elements back into the mix at his pleasure, the track soaring higher and higher as it keeps on its journey to the skies. If rhythmic bliss, had a musical representation, this might be on the one track to refer back to, its sultry meandering nature allowing for such expression and experimentation in sound, the vision displayed by the producer behind it something truly remarkable. A perfect end to a record stuffed to the brim with wonderment, surprise and substance, a sound that continually evolves before reaching back to remind us of where we once were, and showcasing to us how things have changed since the inception.
As ever, there's plenty to marvel at in a Hidden Spheres record, and with this latest offering, it really isn't any different, as we see Harris keen to explore more new avenues to his sound that will forever remain continually evolving. The melodic work is, of course, bold and beautiful, with all the swells you could ever dream of making appearances in the most appropriate places, alongside the drumming work that is wonderfully dynamic and varied across the four cuts. Perhaps its the boldness here that really leaves an impression, with each cut differing from the last but ultimately adding up to a series of musical landscapes that sing so loudly and perform on so many levels you will continually come back to it, as always with a Hidden Spheres record. A record that does much to cement his reputation as a serious provider of groove and emotional engagement, alongside displaying an understanding for the ebbs and flows within tracks that elevate good tunes to great ones. Here you will find it all, a record that balances the full with the sparse, something which is always threaded together with excellence and that distinctive, unique feel. A truly brilliant piece, as always, from Mr Spheres.
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