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Reviews

Head High
Megatrap Albert Freeman , June 30th, 2014 13:10

Previously highly prolific across many aliases, in recent years René Pawlowitz's output has slowed to a relative fraction of its former speed. 2013 saw the birth of a few new aliases from him, including Craft, Seelow and Evil Fred, but each managed no more than a single release, and his output under his more frequent Shed and Head High monikers was similarly small. This is quite a change of pace for a producer who previously deluged followers with five or more singles per year under various aliases. More importantly, the material that did emerge in these two years didn't match his previous standards. The Killer, his album for 50Weapons, was in many ways a revisiting of ideas already well covered in his career, and much of the rest was similarly predictable.

Pawlowitz has often been flippant in interviews about his more floor-focused records being made as quickly as possible and for the express intent of being DJ tools. But was it possible that the lack of new angles in his 2012 and 2013 music showed an artist finally running short on ideas? Many of his more famous aliases seemed to have run their course, EQD and Wax in particular, and the newer projects had reach released only a few tracks before disappearing.

Thus, after his longest silent period yet, a new Head High double pack appeared without announcement (and disappeared just as fast). One of his most crowd-pleasing projects, it combines some of the heavy techno and breakbeat styles he's known for with samples and an image apparently lifted from 1990s house records, in the era when the genre was better known for pushing air than for the deeper, subtler sounds that developed later. Head High emerged in 2010 with 'It's A Love Thing (Piano Invasion)' which, like much of his material, traded in novel reboots of rave tropes, but did so before his followers caught up with him. Four years later, these ideas are now well covered by his contemporaries, with a revival of '90s house, techno and rave currently in full swing. Suddenly, Pawlowitz finds himself mired in the crowd rather than a decent distance ahead of it.

All of this would not matter if Megatrap consisted of material that managed both the quality and innovation of his prior output, but unfortunately it doesn't live up to these expectations. There are three mixes of the title track included, a DJ tool 'Hex Pad' from lead-off track 'Hex Factor', 'The Mono XXX Mix' of 'It's A Love Thing', and only three other originals here of varying quality. By far the most unnecessary is the 'Mono' remix, which weighs in at half the length and leans heavily on elements already familiar from its well-known cousin.

The next contentious issue would be the title track itself, which appears in three versions. Of these, 'Megatrap (Real Mix)' and 'Megatrap (Mix Mix)' are both conspicuously different in construction, length, and sound, with the odd percussion flurry on the former and the sung vocals on the latter standing out; the 'Mix Mix' especially is striking when it transforms in its latter half via the entrance of cosmic pads over a dramatic breakdown. The '4F Mix' essentially adds a 4/4 kick and some modulation to the percussion of the 'Real Mix'; it's too short to be substantial and not different enough to justify itself. Even 'Hex Pad,' as a simple beatless tool, more easily justifies its own utility.

The four remaining tracks are better. 'Hex Factor' rides a vocal sample and repeated breakbeat percussion over howling, cavernous reverb and a widescreen, textured pad that evolves into vaguely melodic sequences. As with 'The Higher (V2014)' it's a trick he's pulled off many times before, but his execution here is impressive again, even if it's nearly textbook Shed. 'Power Seat' is essentially a loopy sample-based house track with a few nice flourishes on the bass and a late-entering synthesiser line that comes too far along to make significant impact. Better is 'Think It', which finds Pawlowitz committing fully to making a house track and doing so with evident musicality. There's nothing here that hasn't been done before, but he has rarely explored house so authentically.

Ten years into an artist's career it might seem unfair to ask for more surprises. But coming from one who kept people guessing for so long, the lack of fresh ideas on a major release is telling. Certainly Megatrap will be played abundantly by DJs, and hopefully many will go on to seek out the best parts of his history. While it seems likely he'll again make innovative music in the future, for now the holding pattern for Head High and Pawlowitz wins out.

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