CHLLNGR—replete with uber-trendy vowelless name—operates somewhere in the heretofore neglected realm between "bass music" and the kind of red-eyed nocturnal R&B so beloved by that sector. (Think The Weeknd, Drake and so forth.) But instead of merely making vague references or putting out unofficial remixes, Copenhagen-based Steven Jess Borth II produces his own brand of the dark stuff altogether, viewed through the eyes of a staunch dub fanatic. On his debut album Haven, Borth alternates between filling the wide expanse of nighttime silence with full-throated vocals and the icy breath of chopped samples, underlining the album's songwriting with a Burialesque touch.
Indeed, dub is the (sometimes buried) beating heart of Haven. It's not always readily apparent, but the genre (and attitude) informs everything from sound design to structure. Haven doesn't get lost in allegiances to genre or orthodoxy, though. It instead figures itself as a consummate nighttime pop album, classy and unobtrusive with just enough paranoia and edge to keep it from slipping into lounge fodder. Crucial to the album's surprising accessibility, CHLLNGR doesn't bury his pop songs in swirls of ambience or overcomplicated structures, nor are low-frequency discourses particularly prevalent.
Some of CHLLNGR's beats owe something to dubstep and garage ("Ask For," "Dark Darkness"), while others are content to repeat their non-aligned progressions patiently in true dubby fashion. The album's soundstage is uncluttered and unerringly clear as elements are introduced and pulled back at will, with tracks like "Someone," "Out of Your Hands" and "The End" acting as digital updates of producers like Perry, Pablo and Tubby, three minute chunks of gently unstable rhythm and sound manipulation. The vocal tracks glimmer in brilliant clarity, while the cutups buzz and hum, spewing candy-sweet melodies like those R&B touchstones mentioned above. The otherwise sparse album is also full of little surprises like the shoegaze touches on "At Last"—the wheezing of light machinery—or the glimpses of four-to-the-floor pulse that surface periodically to subtly push the tracks forward.
There's something about Haven that feels unassuming, a sense of stillness that would be idyllic if it weren't for the album's thorough dedication to soundtracking the unseen nocturnal. It's an album of gorgeous sounds and textures that prefer to lay in the dark and be discovered rather than assert themselves. Pay close enough attention, though, and it'll be an album whose formidably conceived world haunts you for much longer than its runtime.
Tracklist: CHLLNGR - Haven01. May 3
02. Ask For
03. The End feat. Aku
04. Sun Down feat. Coco O.
06. Dark Darkness feat. Teachers
07. Out Of Your Hands
09. At Last
10. Dusty feat. Jessica Brown