Review: The Blaze – Territory (EP)

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.

The Blaze - EP
The Blaze – EP

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.

Track Breakdown:

“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.

Conclusion

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.

The Blaze - Virile (Single)
The Blaze – Virile (Single)
By Benjamin Loyseau
Jonathan (left) and Guillaume Alric (right), a.k.a. The Blaze – Photo by Benjamin Loyseau

For You: Lorenzo Senni’s “Persona”

For You: Lorenzo Senni’s “Persona”

Lorenzo Senni - Persona

Dear Anthony,

Persona nearly falls into the rave cliches that it is so determined to subvert, but I think the cheesiness of its sounds add to a soundscape that is honest in its simplicity. And really, it’s not nearly dance music: “Angel” utilizes dated 80s and 90s synths to imply dance music, yet it can easily be interpreted as concise ambient music. It has the capability to move people, yet demands nothing except engaged background listening.

Going back a track to “One Life, One Chance”, we find much more dance-like sounds, including a shrieking synth that desperately wishes to be the voice of Cyrus or Spears. But what is missing is the percussion, and what is missing is the build up. Instead we are left with the sinew and nerves of what could have been “electronic dance music”. There is a distinct deconstruction of the genre that deserves to be heard; it is an album that revels in what it is not; it is in love with dance but keeps it at an arm’s reach.

Perhaps I am overly influenced by the album cover, but Senni’s interpretation of “non-dance music” is in itself fetishistic: it revels in the delights of dance but just like someone who wishes to hold off the ecstasy of orgasm, it never quite gets there, where I and probably you believe it should be. Because arriving there would set it so far back, into something completely forgettable.

Love,
Aleks

On Dance Music

The Four-On-The-Floor Doctrine

The conservative world of techno/edm music was birthed by its own conservative audiences. The four-on-the-floor foundation has not nearly been creatively exhausted as some may believe it to be, yet its progenitors continue to milk the mundane into further nothingness in an almost desperate grasp at traditional roots and easy recognition.

And it is the seemingly necessary recognition of symbols that continue to perpetuate the FOTF doctrine. Can one accessibly enjoy the unfamiliar? Other forms of art argue not: even the advent of realist paintings were a product of laziness; when was reality ever approximated by accuracy of stroke? Instead artists put a mask on reality and sold it as authentic.

The authenticity (not moralizing) of dance is derived its most improvised state. The institutional forms of “ballet” and “salsa” are separate performative art based on templates rather than ingenuity, just like “realist” aesthetics. If this statement of dance is accepted, why must the music stagnate while the dancer flourish?

FOTF makes a statement: “my audiences want new but nothing new. My beneficiaries want innovation in regression.” Like all self-fulfilling prophecies, the water always flows to the lowest possible point and we are left at square one. Is this fair for the would-be musicians and dancers who, if enabled, could attract themselves to more irregular sounds and make something actually new?

Lastly, why does it matter? What seems like an incisive question is answered by an optimism for the everlasting decree that “we can do better”. It’s not NECESSARY to discover innovative sounds and movements, but it surely is more agreeable than comfortably accepting that nothing should be done to forward dormant genres. In short, why not?