Agoria: Balance 016
Balance 16 is about as idiosyncratic a variation on the Balance theme as one would expect, given the involvement of French producer and DJ Agoria (real name Sebastien Devaud), one of the prime movers behind the InFiné label. Anyone who's followed the French imprint the past little while will be aware of the unconventional spin it brings to the ‘dance' genre, and Devaud's no exception to the rule. In contrast to the focused club-based approach that his predecessors in the series have promoted (the recent stunners by Joris Voorn and Will Saul naturally spring to mind), Devaud opts for a shape-shifting trek that's as much about electronica as it is rhythmning. That may disappoint Balance devotees used to the body-focused sets that have appeared before; listeners willing to re-think what the Balance brand stands for may be more receptive to Agoria's open-minded approach. Variety's the word of the day here, with Devaud mixing familiar (The Field, LCD Soundsystem, Bibio, Sylvain Chauveau) with less familiar names, and scattering twelve exclusives amongst an eclectic mix of deep house, techno, and oddities.
One knows immediately that the opening half (Aller Retour) will be an idiosyncratic set when Agoria inaugurates the disc with the dramatic orchestral atmospheres of Gregg Kowalsky's “Ashes From Evermore” and eschews in its earliest stages anything remotely resembling the dance-oriented stylings of past Balance sets (e.g., the dreamy vocals and spiky electric guitar blues of Tosca's “Joe Si Ha” and Emiliana Torrini's “Gun”). Eventually, however, bass-heavy 4/4 pulsation does enter the scene with the arrival of Arandel's “inD#5,” Justin's “Columpnam,” and “Altre Voci,” Agoria's own banging brew of operatic ululations and epic house thrust. Glimpse's “Train in Austria Part 2” stokes the frenzy to a tumultous pitch that paves the way for The Field's equally ferocious “Over the Ice” and the abrupt turnabout of Olibusta's funky “La Pazz.” Other powerful moments include Todd Terje's swinging treatment of Felix Laband's “Whistling in Tongues” and LCD Soundystem's hard-grooving “45:33.” The first half's material ebbs and flows, driving with breathless momentum at one moment and decompressing into beatless reverie in the next, with unpredictability its fundamental essence.
That same eccentric bent characterizes the second half (Rising Sine) in its initial stages—certainly in the six-second wail with which it begins (Sylvain Chauveau's “Hurlements En Faveur De Serge T.”) and the vocal-and-piano-heavy song (Aphrodite's Child's “Loud Loud Loud”) that follows it—but soon enough the mix settles into chugging tracks whose throbbing techno and house rhythms (Francesco Tristano's motorik “Knee for Thought,” Michael Forzza's “Abstractor 2.0”) persist from one cut to the next. A mid-set breakdown occurs when the orchestral angst of Jonny Greenwood's “Tehellet” intervenes but things pick up immediately thereafter with Mark Broom's stormer “Twenty Nine,” Einmusik's “Atlantis,” and, in a pulsating treatment by Spitzer, Aufgang's “Sonar.” Near disc's end, Serge Santiago elevates Shit Robot's “Simple Things (Work it Out)” to piano-and-synth-laden euphoria and Kid A works up some affecting emotion in “Lonely.” On each disc, Agoria squeezes twenty-five tracks into an hour-long mix, so transitions occur rapidly (many tracks are no more than two minutes and some amount to little more than one-minute transitions) and, adding to the mix's occasionally trippy character, Devaud threads tracks together and treats a few like motifs by re-visiting them.