"Trace," the title track of the most recent EP from Harry Agius (a.k.a Midland) seemed to find the UK producer breaking away from the low-key house that had become his calling card in favor of more direct, tech-tinged territory. While the song seemed to divide critical opinion, it was undoubtedly a progression for Agius. Between his 2010 debut and last year's excellent Placement EP, Midland had established himself as a reliable source of understated, slow-building house tunes, yet "Trace" was different, a track clearly built with grander, peak-time ambitions in mind. This latest pair of tunes—which inaugurate Agius' own label, Graded—feel like a unification of these two sides of his output. On the one hand, they represent a slight return to the more dense and melodic realms of his earlier work. On the other, particularly in the case of the a-side, the music keeps its sights fixed firmly on the dancefloor.
At its center, "Archive 01" sees Agius touching on the robust techno territory he first explored in collaboration with Pariah on their joint release for Works The Long Nights last year. The track is underpinned by a relatively boisterous bassline—at least by Midland's standards—and a pattern of thick, subby kicks that are undoubtedly designed to get a dancefloor moving. Just like "Trace," the whole production is structured around a central breakdown from which a fairly straightforward synth hook emerges. At the same time, "Archive 01" has a lot more layers; above its bass-driven foundation, rolling percussion loops and hi-hat triplets inject a welcome dose of swing into the beat. The more indirect use of breathy, reverb-cloaked vocal samples adds a certain depth too, and as a result, whilst "Archive 01" is still peak-time stuff, it all comes across as more Panorama Bar than Ibiza.
"Realtime" is closer still to the unhurried house of Placement. Here, the big hooks are replaced by a shuddering, single-note bassline and classic drawn-out synth chords. Above this, Agius builds the track slowly into a patchwork of slightly offbeat vocal syllables, which are tied together against the backbone of a classic hat-and-clap house beat. There's still a decent amount of energy to the composition, but it's certainly deeper and less urgent than its a-side counterpart. Both tracks, however, demonstrate that even when he's following the same trends as his many bass-inclined UK house peers, Agius is a producer with plenty of good ideas. Hopefully, Graded will provide him with the perfect outlet to explore them.