Even for a label and an artist that have always been keen to push the boundaries of dance music, Release is an ambitious record. Billed as a double EP, the effort's eight tracks don't seek to move towards a more experimental dancefloor edge, but rather attempt to make something cohesive of its creator's many influences, in particular the various underground styles that stem from the UK tradition of pirate radio and soundsystem music. Settling the differences between these classic sounds and the producer's own affinity for crafting harrowing pieces of audio from the outer edges of techno and bass, Release is yet another worthwhile effort in Pangaea's relatively unpredictable run.
Of the three men behind Hessle Audio (the others being Pearson Sound and Ben UFO), it's usually been safe to characterize Pangaea as the "noisy one." In the past, his tunes have often indulged in more uncontrollable tones from the onset, or at least gradually morphed into grinding, crunchy dancefloor workouts in their closing minutes. However, on Release, it seems the producer has chosen to understate this side of his production, chiseling the grimier tones to fit within the myriad of rhythmic structures he's chosen to explore. Sure, there's still some dirt and grit to be heard in the textures, but rarely do they feel like they are about to boil over, and with the exception of the bizarrely alluring closing track, "Higher," Release rarely takes on any sort of experimental slant. Although it's a bit unexpected, this slight shift in his sonic palette works well over the course of the record.
Without a doubt, Pangaea hits on a number of fruitful ideas with Release's nostalgic hybrids—"Aware" laces a heavy-handed skip with a detuned, D&B-esque bassline and, eventually, layers of airy percussion; "Middleman" is not at all bashful about its dubstep roots, leaning heavy on the snare while bubbling atmospheres and refracted vocal chops swim around the beat; and the record's shiniest prize, "Majestic 12," rolls at a blistering 140-plus bpm, ever so slightly harkening back to UK hardcore as it forms into a shuffling, modern-day heater. Still, while much of Release may look backwards for inspiration, it does not sound as though it comes from another era of dance music; its solid structures, brilliant clarity, and impeccable attention to detail put it on par with the rest of the Hessle catalog, and further speaks to the expert craftsmanship Pangaea has honed over the span of his production career.
Unfortunately, there is one clunker to be found on Release, and—maybe even more unfortunately—it's the opening tune, "Game." Combining a choppy, UKG-indebted beat, Pangaea loops an ill-fitting Missy Elliott vocal sample atop the procession before adding a growling bassline to the song's last two minutes. Ultimately, it doesn't culminate into much, and even feels a bit unnecessary. Still, despite getting off on the wrong foot, Release is an impressive feat overall, one that offers up a handful of uniquely dancefloor-ready tracks while continuing to show that Pangaea and Hessle are not likely to fall behind the cutting edge of dance music anytime soon.