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  • Filed under: Review
  • 07/15/2011

CHLLNGR Haven

Despite being somewhat of a catch-all genre descriptor, the term "dub" does evoke a certain aesthetic sense, which may explain why the work of CHLLNGR has been so easily lobbed into the category. Sure, there is an undeniable element of dub to his craft—it may even be the most prevalent underlying theme—but with the release of his debut full-length, it appears the Copenhagen-based producer is at least finding pockets of unexplored territory within the genre, if not taking strides to move beyond it.

The one obvious insight into CHLLNGR's style that can be gleaned from the handful of tracks and remixes that preceded the release of Haven is that the man has a comprehensive understanding of rhythm. The full scope of this ability comes into focus throughout the course of the LP, as CHLLNGR skillfully piles polyrhythmic layers or, when appropriate, holds back, leaving only enough sparse, skittering noises as necessary. But the prize in Haven's percussive contributions is not just in the rhythms that result; it's also found in the natural ebb and flow with which they are weaved in and around each song, becoming almost trance-inducing via the simultaneously fluid and exact manner they are presented.

With his penchant for intricate percussion as the base, CHLLNGR sets out to explore the possibilities of combining ghostly, at times chilling, song structures with the sort of modern R&B that the UK post-dubstep world has been tinkering with as of late. The album's first two tracks, "May 3" and "Ask For" (the latter of which received a remix from Cubic Zirconia a while back), serve as hints toward the R&B infusion to come, incorporating chopped-and-pitched vocal samples into their pseudo-dubstep cores. With the following track, "The End," guest vocalist Aku is enlisted to provide layers of somber vocals and the soulful undercurrents of Haven become more substantial.

Even with songs like "Sundown" and "Dusty," both of which feature guest vocalists and a more traditional song structure, Haven is still very much a record focused on production, and this is its strongest suit. The alternately icy and blissful atmospheres that CHLLNGR manages to conjure are incredibly powerful and vivid, as on the title track (which we've already said is akin to the "aural equivalent of entering an ice cathedral") or the swirling majesty of "Dark Darkness" (which also happens to prominently showcase CHLLNGR's unobscured voice). Occasionally, an understated melody will rise to the forefront of a given track, becoming a perfect storm of sorts and filling a spot you didn't realize was empty until the very moment it found the proper place in which to exist.

Of course, there are a few lulls to be heard on Haven (as in songs like "Someone" or "At Last," that begin with good ideas but never form into anything more substantial), but they are all easily overshadowed by the fascinating convergence of influences that comprise the album's 10 tracks, making it an extremely promising debut and a uniquely assertive statement in its own right.

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