Will Saul: Balance 015
EQ Recordings

Earlier this year, Joris Voorn threw down a serious gauntlet when he squeezed over one hundred tracks into his head-turning contribution to the Balance series, a move that put the producer responsible for its follow-up in a rather unenviable position. Simple and Aus head Will Saul rises to the challenge by matching Voorn in ambition with a three-disc mix that, in its vast range of styles and artists, functions as an encompassing overview of the electronic dance scene as it stands today. A mere review of the track listing shows Saul taking the listener on a lush tour of house and techno (‘discohousetechno,' if you prefer), but also dubstep, dub, and reggae. The recording is so comprehensive, in fact, that anyone new to the genres could turn to Balance 015 and derive an in-depth education from it alone. Having been created in Ableton, the mix is obviously polished, yet it retains a powerful live feel too (Saul recorded the mixes in real time and added the EQ and dub FX in real time).

Though no single disc can be defined simply when so many styles are included, a general theme does thread itself through each of the three, with ‘space-disco' dominating the first (Cage & Aviary's “Georgio Carpenter” intimates as much by name-checking Giorgio Moroder and John Carpenter). The mix gets off to a rather wonky start when Smith & Mighty's “Anyone” (Mellow Mix) presents a strangely off-key rendition of the Bacharach classic “Anyone Who Had a Heart” but quickly rights itself when Lawrence's “Laid One” bleeds into Junior Boys' velvety “Work.” Things rapidly escalate into a heady sphere (Karma's “Beach Towel,” I:Cube's “Vacuum Jackers”) before making pit-stops at silken electro-pop (Chromatics' “In The City”), acidy electro-trance (Daniel Wang's “Panoramic”), and eventually a stretch of vocal-based deep house (Tensnake's “Holding Back My Love” and Hercules & Love Affair's “You Belong,” with Antony's quiver wailing among the ecstatic vocal throng). The radiant shimmer of Junior Boys' treatment of Sally Shapiro's “Jackie Junior” also appears, after which the set exits on an impassioned electro-pop tip with Bat For Lashes' “Pearl's Dream.”

The caressing croon of Cortney Tidwell (“Palace”) initiates the middle disc, followed by appearances from standard-bearers DJ Koze, Ricardo Villalobos, Lawrence, and Isolée (the serenading “Pillow Talk”). We then go deep (Adam Marshall's “Vespers” and Mathew Jonson's “Typerope”), and deeper still with Will Saul & Tam Cooper's incandescent “Sequential Circus.” Saul effects a segue from uplifting house tracks (Appleblim & Ramadanman's “Sous le Sable,” Model 500's “Wanna Be There”) to dubstep (Zomby's “Test Me For A Reason,” 2562's “Embrace,” Peverelist's “Infinity Is Now”) via Burial's still-stunning “Shell Of Light.” The vocal spectre of Michael McDonald appears to shadow Pangaea's “Router” before Thom Yorke's own haunted voice gives Modeselektor's “The White Flash” a shot in the arm at disc's end.

The mix's final third is heavily dub-oriented in its initial stages, with Sly & Robbie's skanky “Skull & Crossbones” and Rhythm & Sound's “Free For All” amongst the offerings. It's the most overtly soulful of the discs too, with cuts like Geiom's “Reminissin'” and Atlantic Conveyor's bluesy “Nasty Things” oozing no shortage of future-soul, and the impassioned voice of none other than Gladys Knight surfacing a number of times on disc three, just before Rhythm & Sound's “King In My Empire” and later re-emerging on Wolf + Lamb's “If U Had” (alongside a snippet of “If I Were Your Woman”). Saul also makes room for a slice of old-school soul (Patti Jo's “Make Me Believe In You”) before returning to funky house (Jordan Fields' “I Wanna Thank You,” Will Saul & Tam Cooper's “Teddy's Back,” Seth Troxler's “Love Never Sleeps,” and Shonky's “Coco Feel & Love Shonk,” which sneaks the percussion pattern from “Heart of Glass” into its groove) for the mix's final laps. Lest anyone thinks Saul's interested in allowing the mix to fizzle out, the penultimate cut is a burning treatment by Carl Craig of Morgan Geist's “Detroit.”

December 2009