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Mallard - Balancing (Jungle Gym Records, 2019)

The London based producer comes of age on this stunning blissed out voyage through breakbeat, ambient and beyond.

It's always wonderful following an artist along their journey, what with all the twists and turns. Bands, singers, producers, all develop and nurture their sound, crafting it in different ways and manners that sometimes excites listeners, or can often lead to questions on their directions. We get a chance to experience bold new steps in different directions, or more of the same, which is sometimes good, as we keep getting what we want. The bold new steps, or the organically developed, are always the most exciting, where musicians take a dip and really get to understand their sound. Movements like these always mean listeners and audiences alike are left always satisfied, the nature of the music always fresh and exciting. And as a result, we remain more emotionally invested, intrinsically connected to that artist as a result, as we look to follow their developments very closely due to our inherent passion for their music, and indeed their musical journey.

This very much feels like an album Mallard was born to make. His debut EP, 2017's 'Verte', was an absolute triumph, a blend of smooth streetscape vibes, broken beats and evocative pads, that filled the hearts and minds of many listeners. The record came across as being produced by someone with inherent curiosities, a producer eager to explore their little world of sound, with experimentations shining through particularly on the b side. The synth design was awesome, with each one carrying enormous weight, playing along beautifully with the complex and unexpected riddims underneath. It was something special, one of Rhythm Section's best releases, and wetted the appetite of many fans who just couldn't wait to see more. There were hints at Mallard's love of atmospheres and ambient vibes, with a hint that these elements would be expanded upon in greater depth in releases to come. His joint EP with LT as J.Deep followed on International Black later that year, which would contain one of that year's finest tunes, in 'Common Era'. A mammoth 10 minute long epic, it showcased Mallard's developing interest in expansive sound design and layering textures, of which the latter was already on display massively from his debut EP. The enveloping layers of synths was a thing of beauty, and to this day doesn't pack any less of a punch when listening to. In many ways, it showcased Mallard's forward thinking approach, looking to nurture his already impressively installed set of sounds into more lengthy and ambitious soundscapes. To complete this trio of releases, a limited 10" was released by the Section at Run Out Festival, and Mallard's cut here, 'Transparent', massively hinted at things to come from the producer. Blissed out ambient synths on top of droning bass, it was the final piece in the puzzle of what would make up his debut LP, which we will be focusing on today.

'Balancing' goes above and beyond everything that came before, but it has been so heavily informed by his journey through his first three releases. A series of environments, crafted with love and tenderness, but at its heart driven by a love of jungle and breakbeat. Evocative landscapes open themselves up to us, as we tentatively take a dip before being guided into the light by the riddims we hear faintly in the background. Unlike many experimenting with the breaktbeat revival, Mallard bends the drums to his will, they feel a distant second in terms of dominance, with the focus drawn massively towards the keys and the tones. There is much to celebrate in this regard, as we see the producer really flex his muscles in terms of the layering of sound, a wall of softness that melts within our ears. The series of songs that approach us in this manner makes for compelling and compulsive listening, where we want to explore every facet of sound that comes our way. With a number of lengthy compositions, there is no boundary or limit to listening, just a high number of re listens that is both immensely satisfying and inviting at the same time. We wish to immerse ourselves just because there is so much to see in this LP, that one texture we might have missed that one time, that moment where the drums and keys create a sombre or happy feeling. So, lets take a dip.

The opener, 'Laika' starts us off with a 12 minute odyssey. The first aspect is all key driven, with Mallard presenting us with the tone of record into the palms of our hands. Deep synths swirl and twirl from down below, with the density swelling as key lines are added in. The wall of sound is immense, the pitch perfect and the flavours just right. By the time the blissed out breakbeats arrive, we almost feel like they too have joined in with the journey, and we are welcoming them into the environments that grows around us, defining us. The moment the two join together is immensely satisfying, all that build up work just so we can revel in this intertwining of sound. Euphoric and transcendent, we really get it all on this elongated dubby beaty epic. 'Introduction' comes next, with the sound of running water interlaced with synths as our next listening experience. The synths range from a quick sharp stab, to soft lines that intermingle and swirl with one another. They blend and soften to such an extend that the textures and feels start to represent a blend of natural flows and sounds, the music on top reflecting the flow of water that runs endlessly underneath. This just continues on, taking us into a mediative state where we experience both sides of man made noise and natural sounds, that work together to create an interface we can all groove between. 'Dragees' comes next, and this one swings in right off the bat. Starting off with light chiming key lines, the reverb of the drums comes into play, lovely little chopped up breaks that bounce along lightly and softly. On top comes in some more synth lines, that slowly grow and grow into something more. They really begin to swell, as a bass line begins to hum and hum away, before a semi off kilter cymbal line chugs away in the distance. The synths just keep on swelling, and swelling, and swelling, as the breaks fall away for a minute and give away to distance lights and sounds. The whole track has this momentum about it, as if its not trying to explode or go full speed, it just wants to set its perimeters and push the to the limits of synths, their sound and their vibe. 'Balancing' finishes off side A, and again we are treated with the sounds of the wild, blended in with the most organic of pads. The flows of both elements seem so perfectly matched, the spiritual essence of nature and all its forces meet with our emotive response to being in calming and all encompassing landscapes. The pairing of the two gives new context to the synths, as we imagine, standing with our eyes closed, the beauty and majesty of nature just surrounding us and binding us. A snapshot into another world.

Side B begins with 'Xactus', and the tempo gets thrown up a notch. Proper emotive pads join in on this one, where the drumming is more straight up, the blend more orientated to those journeys through the fading light or early mornings within vast city scapes. The pads really do the business here, a mix of little key lines adding intrigue on top of a backdrop of epic deep chords, that hold the whole track together so beautifully. 'Paolina' offer another side to this arrangement. Once again the chord progressions take centre stage, whilst the drumming remains distant and quiet, not dominating or taking control, just simmering away in the background. The synths take a more natural standpoint again, with flutes adding organic feels to the layering of sound. It is yet another supremely impressive sound, one where we are welcomed into a world full of life, be it natural ecosystems or the hum of city life. There is a little bit in here for us all to connect to. 'Hilus' comes next, and once again we feel the power of this record. Mallard has really made a point on this record to evoke emotion from the use of synths, with each track going for a blended approach, or a layered manner, where we are able to read between the lines, with each method as effective as the last. But its the expansiveness of this track and the opener (and the finisher), that showcase Mallard's intentions on this record. Gone are the trippy experimental beats and sparse chords, here we feel the power of the lengthy drawn out synth led composition that make this record so special. Its like ambient but with a little bit more kick, and on this track we see that in full flow. There is a pulse to the synths, a sense of urgency, with little breaks interrupting the layered sounds, but not to its detriment. The natural vibes come back here, with the wind and the sea being evoked here. Gorgeous stuff. Finally, we end on 'Balancing (Mix)', a rework of 'Balancing' from earlier on in the record. Here, the layering of sounds is less dense, with stabs and trippy reverbed key lines moved in in favour of less natural sounds, the vibe moves much more urban here. The drumming pattern really comes full circle, pumping itself out loud, as the key lines delicately do their thing in the background. This is the perfect end to the record, one which has taken us through many tonal landscapes and experiences, climaxing in the best way possible.

Mallard really shows his true colours here. We sense that he has found his ability to let his profound talent speak over an LP, where his adventurous style goes into newly formed territories of sound design and slow but powerful breakbeats. We see a producer full of confidence, grooving and moving between various plains of existence, taking us from lighter subtle spaces to expansive landscapes filled with light and texture. Applied ambience never sounded so damn good, and who knows what we might see from this cutting edge producer.

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