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DJ Boring - Like Water Music Album Reviews

The Australian producer trades the moody house of his breakout hit, “Winona,” for big-room techno suggestive of the kinds of clubs he has gotten used to playing in recent years.

In the fall of 2016, YouTube tastemaker Slav posted a video of a track by someone called DJ Boring. It quickly went viral; currently, it has more than six million views. With its soft pads and acid glow, “Winona” is moody and midtempo, with an undeniable if familiar vibe—maybe undeniable because of its familiarity. Some tracks become instant classics because you’re not sure if you’ve heard it before, or want to hear it again, or both—so you rewind. “Winona” became a standard in the “lo-fi house” scene, which took up the expressive techno of Larry Heard sort of how Boards of Canada took up the eerie crispness of RZA. It stood out not only because of its emotional efficiency, but also its star: a teenaged Winona Ryder, beloved once again after her magnificent performance in the first season of Stranger Things. In a sample from a TV interview, she says: “It is difficult to be judged… I remember one casting director… who stopped me and said: You are not pretty enough to be an actress. You have to find something else that you want to do.” When heard on a bedroom laptop, her words sounded like a welcome call-out of misogyny. When heard at, say, 5 a.m. while rolling on a dark, crowded dancefloor, they could feel like falling into Narcissus’ pool, but also a call to change, somehow. The ambivalence is as affecting as the 909 groove.
Since releasing the track on DJ Haus’ E-Beamz label, DJ Boring, also known as the Australian-born, London-based Tristan Hallis, has put out increasingly direct dance music on Shall Not Fade sublabel Lost Palms and his own Vienna. His new Like Water arrives on Ninja Tune’s vital Technicolor imprint, joining the ranks of club faves like Peggy Gou, Octo Octa, and Hieroglyphic Being. Its four tracks sound like the big rooms Hallis was playing in before all the rooms closed; the songs were engineered for the eye-popping A/V set he created with New York-based visual artist Amir Jahabin. If his previous work played with sentiment, this EP is pure sensation.

Like “Winona,” the opening title track features vocals, but here it’s just a gurgling voice repeating, “Like water.” Is it a metaphor? The sound palette is pretty wet, with drippy percussive hits and a flowing melody. Or is it a command? It’s banging enough to work as a set crescendo, that moment after which your pals stumble to the bar for refreshment. (It’s definitely a moment when combined with Jahabin’s video, which swaps the neon colors of rave-standard fractals for pastels, the geometric forms for sleeves of French fries, and the clichéd trains-and-tunnels content for a deeply strange road trip starring grinning risographic blobs.)

“Another Day” is even splashier, with echoes of the early swing of Herbert, the swagger of Cajmere, and the teeth-grinding brightness of Orbital. Indeed, Boring’s current sound as heard on the EP carries the torch for those torch-spectacled brothers, among the first to move techno from the club to the stadium, for better and worse. “Stockholm Syndrome” might convince the EDM hordes to stop selfie-ing and dance, but given the possible collapse of festival culture, it may never get the chance. Whatever. It starts out dewy, a kind of dubby techno that gradually solidifies into bright Chicago house, as if dried by the sun—the sound of brighter days ahead.

The EP’s highlight is its closer, “Seems Like Yesterday,” whose nostalgic title fits in with its sound, an assemblage of blasts from the past: Depeche Mode’s pop-concrete samples of hammers and sticks, and the happy-sad rush of Eurodisco, for sure. But mostly, well, trance. While Lorenzo Senni has occupied himself deconstructing it for Warp, and Boring’s labelmate Octo Octa, along with Eris Drew, propose it as a pleasure principle, on “Seems Like Yesterday” Boring refreshes trance’s potential for high-speed romance. Its “yesterday” is the millennial poise of DJ Sasha, whose epic “Xpander” is a kind of template. Boring repeats a simple melody for seven minutes or so, but it widens and grows. Halfway through, a shivering synth crystallizes a hook. If “Winona” was a teenage crush, “Seems Like Yesterday” is young love in all its stupid glory. Its heart is on its sleeve, in its synths. Gloriously, there’s no difficulty in it at all.

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