While these late 2004 System releases would appear to be companion discs, they're fundamentally different: Unhooked is a continuous mix by progressive trance DJ/producer Lawrence that culls tracks he recorded over a decade-long span for Scottish DJ/producer Chris Cowie's Hook label; Begin, on the other hand, is a stylistically accomplished debut from D:Fuse (Dustin Fusilier) that often downplays its dance leanings to emphasize more conventional song stylings.
Although Unhooked sonically accords with the prototypical DJ mix genre in many respects, Lawrence deviates from the norm by mixing his own material exclusively. When Hook Recordings shut down in early 2004, Lawrence retrieved material (including some previously released as singles) from the label and decided to issue it in an anthology-like form. His pulsating travelogue through house, trance, and techno bristles with coiled, barely contained energy. More critically, Lawrence transcends the generic trappings of the DJ mix—relentless, thunderous beats, tension builds and dissipations—by crafting a nuanced modulation from the jubilation of the opening half (“Primer,” “Neodog”) into the darker, noir-like ambiance of the second (“Wasteland”). Compare, for example, the chilled piano-strings opener “Filmer” to the brooding, synth-grinding stomper “Navigator.” Lawrence ups the intensity even more with fulminating beats, burbling keyboards, and clarion synth calls in “Ride The Light.”
D:Fuse's Begin is a different creature altogether, an impeccably produced and highly personalized collection of twelve songs and two remixes that weighs in at an exhausting seventy-three minutes. While a dance dimension underpins the recording, it's more than a faceless collection of slamming grooves. If some tracks (“Deep Seduction,” “A Light Less Broken”) are, admittedly, standard club fare, others are distinguished by imaginative touches: D:Fuse's 'live' drumming (the brief overture “Begin”), acoustic guitar picking (the dramatically lush “Indecision”), elegant piano soloing (“Blue Skies”), Chris Oswell's searching alto sax (“Know It's Late”), and Laurie Ritchie's sweetly singing cello on “Letter To a Friend.” While “Other Side” could have amounted to little more than an insistent tech-house groove (with clichéd spoken interjections by Cherry yet), D:Fuse wisely enhances it by adding a simple Kraftwerk-lite synth figure.
With all due respect to D:Fuse, though, Begin's secret weapon is Motorcycle vocalist Jes Breeden. The anthemic “Living the Dream” impresses with its fulminating house base and grimy synth motif but it's her plaintive singing that boosts the song to another level altogether. Even stronger is “Everything With You” where her impassioned, sensual attack elevates the piece so powerfully above the track's percolating dance-funk base that its banal lyrics (“Sweet baby, open your eyes / Take a look at the sunrise”) are almost forgotten in its wake. She sings here with an effortless, sparkling splendour, and imbues the song with open-hearted layers of emotion. (The album also includes an equally powerful, radio-friendly 'rock' version). Though D:Fuse, like Lawrence, has produced a handful of DJ-mix compilations, Begin registers as a bold departure: D:Fuse proves himself not only a deft handler of multiple styles (down-tempo, house, chill-out, trance) but also a gifted songwriter. In a perfect world, any song as dynamic as “Everything With You” would sit atop the playlists of radio stations throughout the land.