- It wouldn't be accurate to call NOTU_URONLINEU DVA's experimental album. After all, the London producer has been pushing boundaries for years. In his early grime days, he was making jaw-dropping stuff; when UK funky was all the rage, he put out the bizarre, lumbering "Natty." Since UK dance music has become a hybrid free-for-all, he's kept up to speed with a series of unhinged EPs.
But Leon Smart's first album as DVA [Hi:Emotion] does feel a bit different. It's pretty introspective in places, and the concept—something about a mega-corporation and virtual reality—might be Smart's way of leading his music off the dance floor and allowing it to take on fluid new forms. You can tell he's excited by the possibilities open to him—in fact, this is the album's main weakness.
NOTU_URONLINEU shuffles through a lot of ideas without developing any of them for too long. The tracks are fascinating and diverse, running from various shades of queasy electronica ("SUZHOU," "AD1_V1," "MEMORIESOFOFFLINEACTIVITY") through to "DREAMFLIX," which has a rumpled, vaporwave-style sheen. "FD14"'s fidgety rhythms sound like Laurel Halo's In Situ with a UK edge. But they lack a convincing throughline. Two versions of pensive ambient track "SHUTDOWNCENTRAL" culminate in the closer, a series of related sketches with gaps in between, as if Smart couldn't find a way to stitch them together but couldn't bear to leave anything out.
This restless swirl settles into a killer mid-album run that makes it all worthwhile. "B IT" is more pointillist funk, until rich pads swoop in for an epic, melancholy climax. "ALMOSTU," with Rae Rae and Roses Gabor, is fractured R&B, a welcome pop moment amongst the abstraction. It's so welcome that any similarities to Kelela don't really matter. On "DAFUQ," stadium-sized horns climax in gut-wrenching THX jingle fashion, before the drums evoke a weirder version of 2013's "Mad Hatter." And then there's the title track, which takes those restless rhythms for a brisk, eight-minute walk, picking up some jazz-fusion keys along the way. Because—and this a question that DVA often provokes—why not?
05. B IT
06. ALMOSTU feat. Rae Rae & Roses Gabor
09. SHUTDOWNCENTRAL 2.1
12. SHUTDOWNCENTRAL 3.0