Hotflush label head honcho Paul Rose (a.k.a. Scuba) may have started his career in the murky arena of mid '00s dubstep, but more recently, the Berlin-via-London artist has committed himself to a comparably brighter realm, one that could be categorized simply as progressive house. For those who have followed Scuba's evolution, it's no surprise that "Hardbody," his latest one-sided vinyl following February's Personality LP and last month's "Talk Torque," is another foray into chopped-vocal house. This time though, Scuba has dialed things back from the arena to the club, trading anthemic bluster for a slightly more subtle and technical sound.
For listeners that were put off by the schmaltz of "Talk Torque" (there's a certain audacity to repeating "I'm your fantasy" ad nauseum, but it's not going to go down smoothly for everyone), "Hardbody" has a vocal loop that works more as a part of the track's spacey bounce than a go-for-broke attempt at fist-pumping euphoria. If there's a parallel to be drawn from "Hardbody" to Scuba's past work, it's probably 2011's "Adrenalin," a fantastic track that toyed with melodrama without fully giving in, and heralded Scuba's progression to come. While "Hardbody" has less of that song's trance-oriented mushiness (and little of its novelty), there's a similar economy of melody working for both.
At this point, Scuba's willingness to indulge his pop impulses has been made abundantly clear, so a track like "Hardbody," which acknowledges those impulses without being completely over the top, is impressive for different reasons. For instance, the breakdown is a nice example of Scuba's more experimental leanings, with a solid minute of melted synths and atmospherics that pool together before the bassline reawakens. Hyperbolic YouTube commenters may write things like "Scuba is the new Sasha" on his live videos, but the artist himself seems more interested in playing with preconceptions than fully committing to any particular formula. Interestingly, "Hardbody" ends with an odd tease during the last 30 seconds, as an electro-house synth line peeks out its head and then quickly fades. Perhaps it's a sign that further stylistic changes on the horizon for Scuba, or maybe it's just a meaningless one-off. Frankly, it's impossible to tell, but the fact that we're still inclined to speculate says a lot.