During the past few years, Benjamin Damage has proven himself to be an artist who can always sound at home, even as he shifts his production focus from release to release. With his debut solo full-length, Heliosphere, Damage again concentrates on a slightly different meeting place between the worlds of cloudy UK bass and Berlin-streaked techno then he has before, essentially filling the wide gap of sonic territory left between last year's collaborative They!Live LP with Doc Daneeka and the more driving solo "Swarm" b/w "Headache" single that followed. In doing so, the Berlin transplant has put together an album that may not exactly launch him onto the level of visibility and fanfare some may argue he deserves, but nonetheless still finds Damage delivering a superbly solid and varied collection of dance music from beginning to end.
On Heliosphere, Damage's work is as structurally sound as ever. Built around hefty pilings of thick drum kits, dense percussion, and vividly detailed textures, the 10 songs are expertly dressed up into various shapes and sizes, but each is at its base a sort of hybrid between synth-led techno and rolling house. After initially making an effort to gradually bring the listener into his world with slow-building, slightly shuffling opener "Laika," Damage wastes no time getting into more floor-focused fare; "010x" works a set of bouncing chords and swirling atmospheres around a chugging shuffle, while "Delirium Tremens" descends into madness with a pounding beat and an obtuse melodic sequence that gives way to a foreboding set of chords. Still, as the record takes shape, Damage smartly uses the album format to not only aim straight for the dancefloor, but also to sneak in some intriguing, headphone-appropriate bits amongst the tracklist. In particular, the fifth and sixth efforts, "Together" and "Spirals," jointly turn the album's momentum inward; the former tune offers a fleeting peek into Damage's handle of dreamy house and the latter simply remains hunkered down in a thick synth arpeggio that's only occasionally accompanied by loose bits of percussion.
After moving in numerous directions with the album's first seven tracks, the crisp house of "Light Year" begins Heliosphere's final push. Certainly one of the record's standout tunes (along with the aforementioned "010x"), "Light Year" is a finely executed example of what makes Damage's work so consistently rewarding—his commanding ability to balance colorfully poignant chords and melodies with crunchy drum programming and churning rhythms makes for dance music that is both powerful and rich with musical expression. This fact is only further bolstered when followed by "Swarm." The previously released track sounds as forceful and full-bodied as it did last October, its thick bass sequence and driving techno weight serving as the peak of the LP's trajectory before being gradually diffused by lush, ambient album closer "Heliopause."
In the end, Heliosphere is everything a techno LP should be, an effort that's not only a platform for delivering established sounds, but also an avenue for revealing new sides of the artist's production abilities and imagination. The album may be Damage's debut full-length, but it nonethless finds him delivering on all fronts in fine form.