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WORLD EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: BALANCE 026 – HERNAN CATTANEO

It’s finally here! James Gill takes an exclusive look at what you can expect from Balance 026 – mixed by Hernan Cattaneo.

 

Boards of Canada’s “Aquarius” (Version 3) begins CD 1 dark and dissonant, with white noise swooshes emulating a shoreline as the waves crash into the sand. We’re greeted with a nice old-school influenced break beat that rises in place of the waves and, mixed with the dissonant pad melody, combines nicely to create for a retro-feeling experimental breaks track that calmly throws you offguard, with it’s unsettling chord progression, but at the same time remains catchy enough to keep you vibing with the groove. I enjoy the random vocal stabs as well, all heavily processed, adding to both the experimental nature of the track, while at the same time creating some variety in the mix.

In the blink of an eye, Cattaneo carries us into the next track and takes us up a key. “Solitude,” from Hernan himself along with Soundexile, featuring Luciana, delivers a calm dose of nu-disco and deep house influenced dub bass, with underlying electronica grooves that are both trippy, yet still fluid and easy to follow from an arrangement standpoint. It ends up as a track giving a sense like the song is carrying you out of the more spontaneous, breakish nature we started with, gradually more and more into a four-to-the-floor rooted journey. You get the sense we are still early in the voyage, but already Hernan is giving us hints of where we’re going.

And from here, we venture further into an electronica/deep house hybrid, that this time starts to lean much more into the camp of house. “Blue Shadow” (Slow Dance Mix) from Chaim indeed continues to provide that perfectly satisfying middle ground, with a gentle, rolling bassline that glides out from under the other instruments. Some heavily delayed synth blips floating around the drums, and a couple well processed synth toms, that make for a groovy timbre that build up and down very subtly, which provide for great variety in the arrangement. The heavily processed vocals, clearly a theme in CD 1 by this point, once again add a nice psychedelic/experimental touch.

From here we’ve jumped the threshold and crossed into proper house. As can expected, Cattaneo opted to let us into that realm gradually, and thus progressive innovators Paul Hazendonk and Noraj Cue’s Slow Remix of “Pavement” from Silinder can be described aptly as a proper lounge house track with all the soulful, and even relatively funky nuances of deep house, but still slow and mellow enough to keep us in the proper place energywise in the mix. The tinge of an analog synth that emulates an older sounding organ here adds that housy tension that really pulls me into the track personally.

Hernan quickly pulls us out of the pleasant daze that lounge oriented material so often hypnotizes us into and delves in a slightly more uptempo piece, with Mano Le Tough’s “Changing Days.” Combining some nice airy pads a little splash of string work really pulls this one together to me, and the catchiness is maintained by a melodically pleasant little pluck riff constantly driving the track’s movement. The bass’s eventual “opening up” from dubbier to a more electro oriented sawish sound gives it a proper climax with some power as well: taking things up a notch once again in excitement.

“Rapideye,” once again from Hernan and Soundexile, starts to creep it’s way in slowly but steadily, with a nice, massive sub kick penetrating through the beat of Changing Days, some sweetly delayed percussive instruments taking over from the previous riff, and a cool little piano floating in the background adding for some melodic variation. This track moves and grooves with the best of them. When we arrive at the breakdown, we’re greeted with an ethereal pad selection complimented nicely by some quickly panning vox effects, that gives a really spiritual feel to it (think brilliant choirs and airy soundscapes). The bass wobbles back in and we’re left lost in the music as it builds steadily back into it’s signature groove. Very impressive production work done here, and so far the standout track for me.

The grooviness continues with Derek Howell’s “Happy To Be Sad,” (Derek’s Happy Again Mix), which adds in a nice funky bass that reminds us of the more classic melodic progressive that really put Derek’s name on the map 6-7 years ago. The 80s influenced gigantically mixed strings only further cement this feeling: the melodic progression is both epic and beautiful, and it makes you emotional just taking it in. Not afraid to hold anything back, Derek’s arrangement breaks it down and builds it up again, allowing the robust major instruments (bass, pad, and lead) to take turns being the focal piece of the track. The breakdown throws in some strong heavy lead saw synth work, almost without warning, and then slams back in all these winning elements together again for a giant synthesis of sonic goodness.

We feel as though we’ve only begun to get a taste of “Happy to Be Sad,” when Cattaneo sweeps us away yet again into “On My Way to Hell” (Balance Mix) from Mercurio ft. Catnapp. We’re thrown into a full on vocal line, with some Nordic female pop power behind it, and some epic groovy electronic synthesis going on in the background to support. Reminding me of the kind of sound choices, Areoplane often championed (think his remix of Paris, for example), in which electro-proggy sounds combine with a female lead to be both funky and message-filled, the track might initially worry you it’s entering a cornier realm, but truth be told, Mercurio excellently pulls off this middle ground, by keeping the voice and the instruments all well in coordination with each other, and never losing the vibe that keeps people hooked into the track’s action.

[quote style=”boxed”]I’d like to add at this point, this is probably one of the most intense reviews I’ve had to do and has required the utmost concentration, because the man is so seamlessly weaving in and out from track to track, it’s hard even for me to tell when one begins and one ends! I’ve played and heard more sets than I could possibly count, but rarely do you find such smooth transitioning, so that you are literally so enthralled in what is happening you are forgetting your place. The mixing, needless to say, has thus far been absolutely brilliant from Hernan Cattaneo.[/quote]

We roll right into John Tejada’s Remix of “No. No…” from the Field and it is safe to say by this point we are going out full gun’s blazing. The intensity of the bass drop just highlights how far in the mix we’ve ventured from initially chilled territory into serious energy. The BPM stays slow, but all the right action is there to seriously say the mix has ventured into deep, new territory.

Moderat’s “Clouded,” serves as a transition quickly into the heavy vocal presence of Weval’s “Out of the Game.” The jam out riff that accompanies it, with some excellent percussive work that really sets the almost rockish tone established by the vocals, let’s pause for a minute to appreciate the song’s climax and a fine array of well placed sounds that come together, but no rest for us yet, as Hernan once again quickly smooths out into our next track, Mike Griego’s trippy “Sponges.”

Griego has been a rising start making some serious noise lately, with massive remixes on Perspectives Digital, a stellar new EP on Sudbeat, and from what I understand, many more new tracks already in the works. “Sponges” doesn’t disappoint, with Griego’s signature psychedelic rolling bass riffs, some blippy percussive effects that accent the groove, and a slowly building atmospheric mood that slowly evolves over the course of the track. I’m already appreciating the attention to detail in fitting all these seemingly conflicting sounds together so well, but what I’d like to further highlight here is that his a truly progressive techy track that has the kind of sonic versatility to fit in with the other variety of hybrid sounds the last few tracks have exemplified. Quality work, and I can see this one making it’s way into many different kinds of sets.

Hernan Cattaneo and Soundexile return once again with “Ginga,” and it mixes in beautifully with the dark trippiness we’ve been exposed to from Griego. A turn even more in the dark direction, Ginga features dissonant minor pads that pan around the listener to add a certain sense of tension and a very wide sense of space. When the looming bass line finally kicks in, with it’s unapologetic unsettling melody, we are now fully surrounded with some dark, pumping progressive house. All the little nuances that some critical listening picks up here are thoroughly enjoyable if you take the time to really focus on what’s going in the background: the synth horn stabs, the little delayed blips, and lovely automated panning all make this a really pleasant piece of work to enjoy.

Spooky’s “Shelter” (Slow Phase Mix) comes in right through on Ginga’s break, filling us with some vibrant, epic string work that comes as a bit of a throwback: with a very classic retro dance sound to it, as well as adding a bit of organic instrumental to sound to what has so far been a very electronic themed mix. The bass, which follows the main string’s melody, was the perfect fit out for continuing out of the darkest we’ve come so far and setting the stage for a change in direction in the next track.

The nice percussive work: congas, toms, and some great open hats make the breakbeat behind “Believe, Belong” from YEWS another really pleasant one for the ears. The vocal throws me a bit off, to be honest, as while it fits with the chord progression, it doesn’t quite come off as sincere in relation to the rest of the track, and I suspect language barriers may also be an issue here. The open, “happy” organ permeating the background is a nice break from the dark tangent we were on however, and I do enjoy this return to breakbeat as a nice rest as well.

We’re right back from our little rest and straight back into the groove, with Cattaneo and Soundexile contributing once again with “Lunar,” which compared to their other work so far has a much lighter feel to it, which is a nice transition from “Believe, Belong” sonically as any attempt to re-enter the darker feelings built upon earlier would have been too out of whack for where we’ve arrived now at the mix. The progression has both major and minor elements to it that contribute here to form a nice middle ground, and the reintroduction of some straight synth riffs brings back the housiness and danceable flavor as well that we saw earlier on in the mix.

“Irminsul, le pilier du Monde,” (2014 Edit) from one of my favorite producers, Damabiah, makes it’s slow infiltration into Lunar, adding some of the Spanish producer’s signature percussive synth work into the mix, complete with the almost Arabic influenced mid bass riff that so many Spanish producers, like Marc Marzenit, have also recently championed. Above all, this track has an excellent sense of ambience, provided by wide open reverb tails, superbly dubby delays, and excellent drum programming. All combined, the sound design and mix make for a naturally big sounding track.

Underground stalwart Gui Boratto makes his contribution next, with “Half Life,” immediately recognizable from the pounding new kick that comes charging out the more subtle sounds of the previous track, and gives the mix a new, revisited aggressive tone. A nice groovy bass, highlighted in it’s own drop, is signature of what follower’s of Gui know he loves to do when live in the club, and this track very aptly captures not only his knack for unique grooves, but also for his one-of-a-kind arrangement style. Starting, stopping: it’s all gravy for Mr. Boratto, who isn’t afraid to give and take on a whim’s notice from his listeners when he knows his tracks are so solid.

We’re treated at the end with a special mix of none other than Guy J’s smash hit “Dizzy Moments.” The AM Mix, featured here, is purely a progressive beauty.  The LFO modulated synths floating in and out of the track, provide tantalizing movement. Once we reach the breakdown, where fans of the original will be expecting the fancy arp work that made the original such a club hallmark, we are treated to that beautiful lead synth once again, rising up and into our eardrums. Like poetry in sound, the simply pluck’s vibe once again dominates the track and entrances the listener to sit back and enjoy the song as it continues to wind up and down from there. The AM Mix, compared to the original, is another slam dunk for sure and I couldn’t think of a better way to end CD1.

We head on to CD 2. After enjoying the CD1 so much, I can’t wait to to put this on and wonder if it’s possible for Cattaneo to match the quality of the last mix.

We begin on a much faster paced note, with “Into the Edge” from Soundexile and Cattaneo starting us off. Some of the percussive synth is instantly recognizable from a lot of the dancier work we’ve seen the production duo releasing lately, such as their remix of Darin Epsilon’s “The Conclusion.” Harder hitting bass, faster groove elements, more energy is already visible as we start to head in a clearly much more dance oriented direction in CD 2.

We continue from here with “Changes” from Roi Okev and Hakimou and the introduction of a soulful, Gnarls Barkleyish vocal, a breakdown oozing with dramatic tension that leads into deep kick and new house oriented rhythm. Whereas “Into The Edge” was clearly more melodic in character, “Changes” focuses on it’s underlying beat and sticks to it. The vocals carry for variation in the song, whilst the drum work combined with a heavily swung bass keeps things moving. A little of deep house, a little of progressive; this song has a nice middle ground that seems to satisfy both camps.

Andy Arias’s Interpretation of “Modjo” from Ivory Street brings us back unquestionably into the progressive realm, with some rolling mid bass, arpeggiated synths, and giant dissonant sound effects that flutter in and out. As noted with Mike Griego’s work previously, I’m very much enjoying the percussive blips that are accenting the groove, giving us both incentive to dance a certain way but also making the overall vibe stronger for what the artist is attempting to convey in the track’s movement. During the breakdown of Modjo, we also see some trancier melodies subtly making their way into the mix, which Arias appropriately pulls off without getting too cheesy or losing his progressive tone. Nice piece of thought-provoking work here.

And just as quickly, we are gone once again, as Cattaneo seamlessly transitions us into another Soundexile collaboration of his called “Parallax.” Bigger, more open hi hats and a tastefully dirty clap sweep us into a classic Argentinian progressive bass groove that gives us a sense of going deeper into the rabbit hole, as vocal effects, swirling pads, and giant reverb surround us in a soundscape that opens wide up and does an excellent job of creating some newfound tension to heighten our senses as well. During the breakdown we’re greeted with a variety of harmonies, doubles, and a tantalizing lead that are all superbly mixed together to provide for a powerful human wall of sound. When the beat kicks back in, it only makes that much more impacting.

“Fugazzi,” again from our Argentinian production duo, takes the reigns from there, with a more minimalistic approach element-wise, but it’s a nice break in that respect. It gives the listener a respite from all the information being processed by the effects from “Parallax,” and instead let’s us focus on a few basic drum elements, a pleasant synth riff, and some airy string pads that highlight the tracks melodic emotion. As if reading the need to give the listener a small break, Cattaneo perfectly transitions once again to a simple premise that he allows to gradually evolve and be appreciated in it’s own right. The heavily delayed pluck that resonates in and out of the other progressions is such a beautiful, simple, and powerful piece of work y. The groovy bass is also a perfect compliment here and keeps us vibing.

We head into deeper territory from here, with one of progressive’s modern champions, the great Cid Inc. His contribution, entitled “Fragile Circle,” is brought ever so gradually into the mix, which is something one must stop and appreciate from Cattaneo once again, as from the perspective of a DJ, it’s just the right approach to allow the track’s full life to be taken in. [quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]One of the really excellent points to note here is how Cattaneo has really done such a fine job analyzing which songs need to be mixed in quickly, and which can take a bit more time, so as to calculate a psychologically pleasant pace for the listener. In doing this, he not only creates the energy, he controls it.[/quote]

“Fragile Circle” has all of Cid Inc’s signatures that fans have come to love so much. His uniquely process percussion, giant punchy kick drums, and well timed shakers, all give that nice Nordic progressive flavour. For those expecting a usual rolling bass, prog techno banger, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. The melodic work here takes both a different turn and yet at the same time one can still hear his hallmark “taste” for dissonant melodies, combining to create power. Overall, there is much more large scale progressive melody than we’re normally accustomed to from Cid Inc, which again adds for an interesting change of pace. As usual, his breakdowns are one of the major highlights of the work: creating excellent tension and growth while leaving you waiting every second for the climax to come crashing down. Arrangement-wise, you’d be hard pressed to find better.

One of progressive techno’s biggest rising stars, Khen, is up next with “Sweet Break Up.” Instantly the darker tone and dissonant percussion that really underlines Khen’s tech influence is recognizable, but the juxtaposition of this with some very sweet blip lead work show how successful the Israeli producer is at merging these two worlds.

And almost as quickly as we came, we are thrown into “We Need Cracks” from Joran, the light hearted lead almost throws you off at first, but the artist manages to bring it all together after the break and show how well he is able to envision both the melodic and the tech together. Joran’s experimentation with delay on the variation of the original premise is also very nicely done, and does well to give a fresh perspective. His choice to also opt for a trancier climax is interesting, and works out once again here too, giving us yet more melodic goodness to wrap our heads around.

With Santi Mossman’s Rework of Guy J’s “Esperanza,” it is clear from the transition happening that we are delving deeper into the dark progressive world, with more open, powerful synth riffs, fast moving tight percussive work, and big, giant delays. White noise effects, heavy reverb, and the intricate use of filtering give us a sense of the epic. The introduction of the lead melody that slowly fades in during the break bears some trancier undertones that stay with the track as it goes into it’s climax. From here, the beat drops epically and we’re thrown back into the rolling deep sound that originally brought us into the track, and I personally am very much enjoying it, as it keeps the excitement going hard, and it never gives the impression it’s leaning too far into trance/melodic territory.

Once again we’re back into the action with newcomer Simon Vuarambon’s Remix of “Disclosure” from James Teej ft. Richard Hennessey. A dark rolling bass line really brings the power into the mix once again, and Cattaneo’s transition from the lighter “Esperanza” here is gradual and builds the power coming once again without too forcefully knocking us over the head with it. From all the work I’ve heard from Vuarambon so far, I’m hugely in awe by his ability to combine such intricate melodies with such dancy beats. Every time you think his work ventures into territory where it’s too floaty or interludish, he slams a dirty beat right in there that gets you grooving once again, and I love this “light and dark”. The vocal gives the song it’s remix context, but it never dominates the track or detracts from the danceability of the work. A catchy synth riff on top of all this, and you’ve got yourself a nice, well worked piece of music here. Vuarambon is one to look out for in the future, because if this is any indication to come, the young Argentinian will only explode musically from here.

Guy Mantzur is one of the hottest names in progressive at the moment, and makes his mark on the compilation with his 2014 remix of his “Patterns” collaboration with fellow Israeli Sahar Z. The groovy bass line carries all the hallmarks of modern Mantzur, just making you want to stop and bob your head to the beat, while the trippy heavily delayed effects engaging the background spark your imagination and give you a brief glimpse of in depth calculative mind of the artist. This track is another deep journey that mesmerizes, hypnotizes, and leaves you feeling you’ve landed in a new-found place in your sonic journey. I enjoy his subtle opening of the mid bass line to give a sense of grit every now and then: it’s never over the top, but gives some cool variation to the steadiness of the song’s flow. So far, this song takes the cake as my favorite for CD 2.

Interesting to note that by this point Cattaneo has abandoned the quick mixing style that captured the energy of certain points previously in this compilation, and opted to let the deeper tracks in his selection play themselves out, giving listeners the opportunity to really become immersed in the final themes we see as we reach closer to the end of the mix.

Guy J makes his return to the compilation with “Lonely Color,” a little number that will easily catch your attention for Guy’s unique, complex styling of arpeggiation, some delicately mixed in horn synths, and a dirty dark bass that pounds through the mix adding some serious additional punch. The use of delay and a multitude of different synthesizers combines nicely to create variety, and the change up in percussion throughout various periods in the arrangement is a great touch to keep things exciting (particularly those killer toms after the break!). The variation in bass additionally was a nice, unexpected surprised that re-infused some more melody back into the track, and although I was not expecting it, it worked surprisingly well to underline the song’s major themes.

The transition into some darker, oriented material comes once again, with Hernan Cattaneo and Guy Mantzur’s collaboration “Imaginarium,” and this one, folks, is simply a banger. The bass is epic and huge, the the drums are relentless, and the massive effects once again surround and envelope us. The breaks get even huger, with large reverb taking over the track, vocal stabs adding some accent, and various phasing, delay, and giant sweeps just adding to the great tension that has been built. The energy is just emanating from every inch of the track, and all the elements combine to make for an experience that just makes you want to get up and dance!

We conclude our journey with Cattaneo and Soundexile reprising once again for “Lotus,” choosing to take one last darker turn, giving us yet another contemplative sounding track, that rocks right into your eardrums with a heavy deep bass, and some instantly catchy synth riffs. The duo choose a more minimal feel here, and clearly it’s a nice come down from the heavily ornate work the last 3 tracks have left us with, but it’s still just as powerful, as all the instruments here are aggressive and aim at really leaving you with a lasting impression. The lead synth is a standout player in this musical cast, and sticks eerily with you throughout the track as it slowly takes you down to our final ending.

Verdict: this mix was a statement. It was built to showcase how devastatingly effective progressive house can be when programmed correctly. There are no flaws in the execution. Cattaneo builds moods that last in your mind, expertly evolving them through the mix, into more complex notions continuously, which challenge the listener to immerse themselves even deeper in the sound. This isn’t just the best mix I’ve reviewed all year, I would argue that this is the best progressive mix of 2014 by far, and possibly the best mix Balance has ever released. Hernan Cattaneo has somehow managed to make progressive house relevant again and showcased it’s unrivalled power in influencing moods and emotions. He has created a level of quality that goes beyond being entertaining. This mix is profound. It may go down in history as one of the best mixes of all time. Gracias Hernan Cattaneo! 10/10 Perfect

WORLD EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: BALANCE 026 – HERNAN CATTANEO
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