No doubt names like Huxley and AUS Music have been tastemakers and champions of the UK house/garage scene since their origins, and in 2014 the two venture into new territory in the full-length album Blurred, an LP release that is a first for both the producer and label. While Aus carries the likes of house kids Dusky, Midland, and Bicep in their roster along with more garage oriented names like Appleblim and Joy Orbison – likewise Huxley trips the line between house and garage with a label family that includes Hypercolour, Tsuba, and 2020 Vision. Although Huxley is known to have recently put a stronger focus into his house orients – a strong prominence of low-end basslines in his tunes still lends itself strongly to garage, dubstep, and breakbeat influences. Blurred, for its namesake, traverses across all of these, extending even further to tiptoe into drum & bass and even pop.
The album starts with “I Want You” which reminds me strongly of a record I can’t remember the name of (though my mind keeps telling me Bonobo… but my body, my bodyyyyy.. nevermind). This is perhaps an influence towards me enjoying the track as much as I do, but the muted and melancholic track glows with undulating charm. “Barne Dance” goes full garage, shuffled drums and pitched vocals dancing carefully with a skipping, pulsating bassline. The album then goes into it’s first female vocal feature, a track called “Give 2 U”, featuring FEMME.
It’s here where Huxley’s affinity towards radio-friendly house shows up, and for me a bit underdressed. This continues to be an issue for me in the other vocal tracks, “Road Runner” and “Say My Name,” both of which fall flat on straddling the line between deep house and catchy pop – a line that has seen itself at the top of UK charts several times this year. The tracks are good, well-made, and the vocalists noticeably not without talent. But amongst the throngs of bassline-house vocal-hook tracks that dominate UK radio and charts, I find it difficult to walk away humming any of the hooks. Highly commendable, however, are Huxley’s efforts in tracks perhaps less radio-formatted, like the D&B stunner “MXR”, the grower-not-a-shower “Reassign” and his clubby collaboration with S-Man (aka Roger Sanchez) on “Callin”. It’s actually the tracks with unfeatured vocals that steal the show for me, “I Want You” and “Never Easy” which respectively start and finish the album with glistening plaintiveness. Tracks like “Reassign”, “Cakewalk” and “Wayfarer” click and build into a throbbing wash, exactly what songs like these should do in their moments.
Blurred is a pleasant listen (I actually am on my fourth go-around as I write this), with tracks that are able to cross from a massive club system to your shit laptop speakers without an overwhelming loss of listenability. I applaud Huxley’s efforts in, yes, blurring lines between the club and radio, between genres like breakbeat and house, and for the most part he pulls it off. But where I can remember and give props to someone like Katy Perry for a hook like “You’re gonna hear me roar,” the hook of “I ain’t your road runner, babe” sits uneasily on top of a solid track and falls short of an infectious sing along. A solid first album effort from the English producer, a clear showcasing of his variable talents from a soundscape perspective and bonafide conciseness in skillful music production. Looking forward to seeing him stateside this week and for whatever’s next from the workhorse producer as well as the always enjoyable AUS music label.