Combining elements of dub and R&B with a nocturnal aesthetic, producer CHLLNGR (aka Steven Jess Borth II) is one of the freshest sounds to emerge so far this year. After a slew of well-received remixes (The XX, Primary 1, MIA) and involvement with acts Cubic Zirconia, Spoek Mathambo, and Teachers
all signs point to 2011 being a good year for the young producer. Utilizing thick and heavy rhythms while optimistic melodies juxtapose against eerie soundscapes, CHLLNGR's debut "Haven" is his most focused, distinctive work to date.
While cohesive in it's murky, hauntingly reverbed vibes, "Haven" is far from monochromatic and full of surprises with spectral soul tightly intertwining with meticulous rhythms that can't easily be classified. Deep sub-frequencies and decaying atmospheres lay the foundation for the sublime set of melodic, moody tracks.
The opener "May 3" sets the tone marrying carefully cut drone loops and sampled vocals floating overtop subtle, skittering riddims. Lending his own vocals to the the first single "Ask For", the airy R&B inflected trunk-rattler comes correct with G-Funk synth hooks snaking through the rhythmic maze CHLLNGR creates. Never sounding out of place within the music, the vocals seamlessly integrate into the music often in wordless forms adding more depth to the already emotive interplay of CHLLNGR's electronic palette.
The album's centerpiece, and title track, utilizes ghostly african rhythms and cavernous pads to coil around Borth's indistinguishable, yet hopeful-sounding intonations. Throughout "Haven" there are more vocal contributions from Borth (many of which are chopped and screwed) to highlight, as well as stunning performances from Coco O. of Quadron and Dragons of Zynth's Aku on the album. "Haven" closes with two tracks that hint at new directions for CHLLNGR including the mantra-like "At Last" with refraining, funky percussion held together with a 4/4 kick and the slo-mo electro/R&B stylings of "Dusty" featuring percolating drums and the lovely, mournful voice of Jessica Brown.
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