It’s a wonder that the modern dance music producer even comes out with an album, let alone an EP containing over three tracks. The dance music market desires the hit single, and likely some substantive remixes of that same single. The single will then be transported into Spotify/Apple Music to be inserted into various modular and algorithmic playlists that could not care less that one track or the other exists within.
For better or worse, Territory ignores the pitfalls of throwing several tracks into one collection (Pitchfork/Resident Advisor can’t cover several EPs spread over months, but rather offer only one brief piece of coverage in April; quick discoverability of the “B-side” tracks when offering the standard two track EP with possible remixes to sweeten the bargain; simply having several identifier names for several EPs to better establish the producer’s “brand”) and throws in four full tracks and two “texture” tracks for the listener.
“Prelude” (3.5/5) feels as if it could have opened for a bizzaro-The XX album. Pulsing synths, a tinkling piano; this is not the typical track to open for most dance music producers. This opener establishes that while The Blaze may not be “heady”, they are not simply banger producers.
“Territory” (4/5) is crystalline clear, with sparse instruments over a very familiar-sounding beat; it is the prototypical rave song for dudebros and molly’d up life-lovers. It’s austere yet celebratory; the extremes in tone turn what would have been a very stereotyped sound into something with surprising substance (for a dance song). Determination and a tempered happiness makes “Territory” definitive to the tone of The Blaze.
“Virile” (4/5) is how I first discovered The Blaze months ago. Admittedly, I was particularly interested in the album cover: a man embracing the face of another, as the latter takes in the smoke of what may be a cigarette or (revealed in the music video) a joint. Here one can discover an important aspect of The Blaze (or at least what they are trying to project): that the dudebro music produced is looking beyond the typical “straight, white” dudebro, but also the assholes of many other races, nationalities and sexualities. The building synths and once-again familiar dance beat of the track drives a pitched down voice that is found throughout the EP; the ambiguity of the voice pushes the visuals and overall thesis of The Blaze: there is more that straight, white dudebro raving.
“Interlude” (3/5) still feels as if it was taken out of the B-sides of The XX. I can almost hear Romy’s voice echoing over the piano and the synths.
“Juvenile” (3/5): beat feels weak, seeking that “driving” motion that producers might emulate in order to get their song in a Nike running playlist. But the vocals tend to make up for these issues; the simple line by the pitched down voice, as well as the repeated whimpers in the last half of the track produce a positive emotion that I appreciated after a rough beginning.
“Spark & Ashes” (3.5/5) was my least loved track for the first couple weeks of listening, but after a few listens, this approach to the “driving” beat was wholly complementary of the great vocals and sidechaining effects that occur throughout the track. The halfway point has a build-up that feels better each time I listen to it; the looped vocal combined with the organic-sounding percussive melody became again very The XX.
The Blaze has found differentiation in their dance music through their visual process. I personally discovered them through their album cover for Virile, and later became very interested in their official album cover for Territory. With these two images in a vacuum, there is something very modernist in their depictions of masculinity; a type without protestant shame, comfortable in one’s skin and comfortable with those around them. The images of Virile and Territory tell two different stories of this comfortability (the latter may be more exclusionary than the former), but it is a story worth telling, and worth modernizing.
The music videos expand on these images (the covers are taken straight out of the videos like a screenshot), with “Territory” expanding EDM beyond Western borders into Algeria, juxtaposing the pleasure of dance with Islamic images, familial relationships, and back alley antics. “Virile” is more personal, depicting the relationship between two friends. If masculinity is not being eradicated by feminism, then it is evolving beyond the dated presuppositions of the 20th century.
But that is where the EP may falter for putting so many tracks in one basket: do these tracks hold up without their visual counterparts? Could “Juvenile” and “Spark & Ashes” be heightened by accompanying music videos? I would answer yes: in an age where the single track is worthless, set upon algorithms and passive consumption playlists (exercise), the emotional resonance of all music requires more, and perhaps the music video continues its role of expanding the thesis first introduced by the track; from dance into reflection.