Danny Howells: Balance 024
Balance Music

Though the idea of following twenty-three distinguished installments in the Balance mix series might intimidate even the most experienced and confident DJ, Danny Howells' straightforward, three-factor solution to the problem—great tunes, astute sequencing, and seamless transitions—proves to be eminently sound. The British DJ certainly brings a goodly amount of experience to the task, given that his discography includes previous mixes for Renaissance, Global Underground, and his own Dig Deeper imprint. A known quantity since the late-‘90s, Howells has admirably resisted the lure of fleeting dance music trends over the years, preferring to go his own way and releasing music when inspiration strikes. When he received confirmation that he would be contributing to the series, his focus turned to choosing tracks that had stood the test of time. The result is a two-and-a-half-hour mix that, spread across two discs, proudly wears its melodic and soulful heart on its sleeve.

The mix takes flight with a Desolate mix of Essay's “Find You,” its ethereal vibe and broken beats providing a serenading point of entry. Howells' experienced hand is already evident at this early juncture in the patience he shows in giving Essay's track time to blossom before moving onto the next one (a Jamie XX remix of Four Tet's “Lion”) and in effecting the transition so fluidly it's well nigh impossible to tell where the one ends and the next begins. A slightly tripped-out quality permeates the early going as Howells guides us through soulful reveries by Lady Blacktronika (“Song of Love Overdue”) and Ivano Tetelepta (“Smokin' G”) and slyly has the groove assume more heft as the seconds advance. With The Mole's “A Daily Affair,” a jazz-inflected bounce takes root before an entrancing KiNK mix of Jimpster's “Porchlight and Rocking Chairs” brings us to an early peak. That disc one mid-point finds the mix having found its groove, so to speak, in this case a warm mid-tempo pulse that's cozy and more soothing than frenzied—which isn't to suggest that the set is rhythmically lean, as the funky allure of Nicco's “Its Over” (in an Oxia remix) makes clear. As the disc reaches its end, its arc comes into clearer focus, with the sunblinded early going eventually culminating in the jacking swing of Alland Byallo (“A Red Dilemma”) and Axel Boman (“Look What You've Done to Me”).

Disc two floats in on a fluffy Balearic cloud courtesy of Maricopa's hypnotic “Neon Shoals,” its soft sparkle a welcome respite from the the kind of festival-styled fist-pumper that soils many a mix. The soulful spirit of disc one re-emerges in the punchy Soul Renegades remix of Campion's “Ekul” and the funky house of Shur-I-Kan's “One Ten,” and with warm electro-house jams like Seva K's “Falling” and Chopstick & Johnjon's “Roots”on hand, the mix's second half starts to sound as much like a Needwant release as one from Balance (not a bad thing). Not everything's so laid back, however: Ewan Pearson adds a powerful injection of life to the mix with his rework of Kaltehand and Natasha Waters' “Pages,” Prins Thomas shows up for two frothy Crimea X remixes (“Yev,” “Dream is Gone”), and Australian trio Jagwar Ma and Sandrien take the mix out on a surprisingly blazing note with wiry acid house. That closing stage aside, Howells largely eschews the obvious and crafts a classy collection that may very well sound just as good years from now as it does today.

January 2014