Will Saul has been fairly quiet on the production front for the past five years, apart from a smattering of collaborative EPs. One the surface, it might appear that the twin responsibilities of his labels, Simple and Aus, have been taking up all his time. As it turns out, he's been ensconced in his Somerset studio, committing that time to a hugely ambitious collaborative album, Getting Closer, released under the pseudonym CLOSE in an effort to distinguish its sumptuous and often melancholy sound from the more rough-and-ready house he puts out under his own name.
The contrast is stark, and from the moment Charlene Soraia's vocal soars on opener "I Died 1000 Times," draped in sumptuous reverb and spiralling across an immense, widescreen soundstage, it's clear that, despite the hints of lead single "Beam Me Up," this LP isn't going to be 10 tracks of floor fodder. Instead, Saul offers up dread-laden dub reggae ("Born in a Rolling Barrel"), pseudo-half-step ("Inside"), and elegiac ambient ("Wallflower"), alongside the 6th Borough Project-flavored disco of "Cubizm" and even a post-garage stepper in "Future Love." It's an expansive listen, and though the changes in pace and tone don't always hit their mark, Saul shows off a remarkable range that isn't immediately apparent in his back catalog.
Considering that discography, it's surprising that what one would expect to be Saul's strengths—the deep and dusty house his labels have found such success with, and that he's showcased on records like "Light Sleeper," last year's collaboration with October—constitute Getting Closer's weakest moments. "Time Fades" is a functional club track, with dampened synth lines that are filtered through light and shade, but it feels oddly unambitious compared with its surroundings, its boxy kicks-and-hats stomp lacking urgency. Similarly, "Beam Me Up," the album's most obviously dancefloor moment, has an earworm chorus and whomping bassline that will slot neatly alongside Disclosure and Dusky this summer, but it's precisely those elements that make it feel soulless, and a touch too formulaic.
Such obvious rabble rousing also jars with Getting Closer's considered tone elsewhere, and it's when Saul takes his eye off the dancefloor that he gets the best results. Highlights "Born in a Rolling Barrel" and "My Way," both collaborations, are largely beatless workouts that explore the fertile playoff between male vocals and shuddering bass. The former is a dark beast awash in dub echo, like a Lee Perry take on house music, with enough low-end pressure to dent cement. The latter is groggier, with Fat Freddy's Drop singer Joe Dukie impersonating Ne-Yo to scintillating effect, underpinned by plucked arpeggios rolling down the octaves. Saul is touring Getting Closer with a specially designed live show, featuring cinematic visuals and live drumming from Apple Pips affiliate Al Tourettes, which makes sense, as this is an album that will translate better live than it ever would as part of DJ set. Considering Saul's reputation and pedigree, crafting a largely non-dancefloor album under a pseudonym is a brave move, but one that Getting Closer arguably vindicates.