Paul Hazendonk: Adapt
Manual Music

One of those albums that gets better the more times it's heard, Adapt is the eclectic debut album from Manual Music head honcho Paul Hazendonk. Its appearance follows a long gestation period, as since 2005 the Dutch DJ-producer has more focused on getting releases by label artists such as Gabriel Ananda, Hernan Cattaneo, John Tejada, and Alice Rose out into the world. There's a warmth and subtly melancholic character to the album's material that's attractive (certainly some credit must go to producer Noraj Cue for that), and the seventy-seven-minute collection not only features deep house and techno throwdowns but soulful vocal-based tracks, too.

Hazendonk serves notice with the haunting opener “In The Dark” that Adapt aspires to be something more than a straight-up set of bangers—not to suggest that the cut doesn't have a floor-filling capacity (it does) but more to affirm that, especially with a delicately sensual vocal by Danish singer Alice Rose gracing its luscious house swing, the producer's aiming for something grander than functional dance workouts. Other cuts are also rendered memorable by their vocal elements: Patchy's tender voice amplifies the soulful quality of “Hazy Echoes”; “Primate” sprinkles conversational snippets lifted from an unidentified film across its carefree mechano-house strut; and South African Lazarusman assumes the role of raconteur on “Story of Something” in a cut that otherwise operates as hypnotic, late-night roller. Elsewhere, the dramatic ballad treatment given “Canyon” can't help but call Portishead to mind when it includes a quivering vocal by Kosheen's Sian Evans.

While a generous share of the album tracks feature vocalists, Hazendonk knows how to keep those that don't from sounding secondary. Though “Duclos Lasalle,” for example, might start out unassumingly, it works its magic patiently, and the cut eventually blossoms into a dance setting of epic proportions. Hazendonk's affinity for jazz touches comes into play, too, with strings, keyboards, and percussive details helping to give the arrangement a scope that verges on orchestral. “You're My Habit,” by comparison, eschews jazzy propulsion for a sexy strut that suggests amour is the addictive quality alluded to by the title as opposed to anything pharmaceutical. And just as he does throughout the album, Hazendonk elevates the track with well-chosen details, in this case a slinky piano figure, vocal coos, and, best of all, a gorgeous orchestral breakdown, all of which bolster the track's sensual character. As its title suggests (and field recordings of airport announcements and terminal activity make clear), “Urban Suitcase” takes as its subject matter Hazendonk's experiences as a world traveler, while “Ugly Smacker,” its organ-laced techno thunder credited to Furrr & Hazendonk, shows that Adapt can get raw and dirty when it wants to.

All told, Adapt is a wide-ranging work that largely succeeds, even if it does sometimes test the limits of just how widely one collection should range. Any album that makes room for both “Primate” and “Canyon” is clearly hunting ambitious game, but there's no denying the quality of the material on offer or the talent of the man responsible for it.

May 2014