- A calm, collected and wonderfully content record from the UK producer.
- Sometime around the beginning of 2020, Oscar Henson sat down at home in London with a clear mind. At least that's what Blush, recorded early last year during a break from gigging (before everyone else's forced break from gigging), sounds like. There's a sense of focus and contentment to the record, which takes Henson's leftfield techno and adds splashes of minimalism, jazz and the organic sound art of artists like Haruomi Hosono. It's an adventurous but restrained record that prioritizes melody and timbre over the usual UK rhythms heard on the Wisdom Teeth label, a rare example of a dance music producer taking to the album format perfectly without overextending themselves. Lush, breezy and, at 32 minutes, brief enough to tantalize without wearing out its welcome, Blush is the dance music equivalent of a domestic bliss album.
Listening to the plucked strings and mallet sounds of the opener "Sistine (Plucks)"—which sounds a bit like a Steve Reich and Midori Takada collaboration—I couldn't help but think of K-Lone's Cape Cira, which came out on Wisdom Teeth last year and feels like Blush's counterpart. Both albums feature the UK's most exciting club producers slowing way down and feeling out stronger melodies and hazier moods. But where K-Lone imagined a tropical escape during a grey winter, Henson finds his own form of escapism at home, taking pleasure in the familiar and comfortable rather than fantasizing about paradise.
The first sign of Henson's bass-heavy, Bristol-inspired sound comes with "On Deck," which pairs bouncy thuds of sub-bass with a gentle soca swing. It sounds like a bit of Caribbean sun shining on the West Country. He takes the opportunity to try on other sounds and styles, like the cruising Detroit worship of "Verge" (and its ineffable MIDI guitar) or the dubby house of "Diving Birds," a collaboration with Parris. "Diving Birds" is a true mind-meld, mashing together two kinds of Zen-like calm—Parris's tectonic basslines, Henson's gentle rhythms—for one of the most sumptuous tunes either producer has ever made.
It's not as if Blush is an ambient album. The otherwise floaty "Diving Birds" is held down by a straight house kick drum pattern, while even the muffled jazzy rhythm of "Brushes" features spasms of sub-bass that might catch you off guard. Or they could feel like a warm massage. A track like "Brushes" offers a different way of looking at club music, using its most physical elements to instill a sense of ease and relaxation. The most striking example of this is "Blush," where a half-time drum & bass rhythm becomes a platform for wistful sighs and a daydreaming melody. It has a warm, almost clammy human touch to it compared to the early '10s Autonomic drum & bass of dBridge and Instra:mental, its most obvious antecedent.
That Henson's album of laid-back, introspective dance music comes at a time when most of the music world is foaming at the mouth to get back to dancing and partying is ironic to say the least. But it also feels like a reminder that there's no harm in taking things slowly. Blush's delicate melodies and featherweight rhythms might well become a time capsule for when the dance music world was forced out of loud clubs and into apartments and bedrooms. While its immaculately produced tracks will no doubt sound fantastic on a loud soundsystem—I'm sure later this year we'll be hearing "Diving Birds" and "Brushes" out—it also feels like a gift for everyone out there who is just as happy listening to dance music in private, on headphones, relishing every timbral and textural detail. It's the sound of an artist deep in his comfort zone and absolutely thriving there.
01. Sistine (Plucks)
02. On Deck
05. Iso Stream
06. Diving Birds feat. Parris
08. Low Bridge (Lights)