The average dance music album is a strange beast. An eternal struggle between creating something which is dancefloor relevant but isn’t going to leave a casual listener exhausted by track four. As such, it’s always fascinating to hear what any established DJ/producer will come up with in a longer format. Asylum Earth is Nick Hook’s first studio album. If you prefer your house music a little more refined (at the risk of being snobby, I suggest without the companionship of sticky carpets, lager louts and extortionate door prices) the chances are you’ve come across one of the promoter and label owner’s club nights in Brighton & Hove, or least heard some of his tunes rocking a venue somewhere.
As a complete work, Asylum Earth immediately has impact by not being crammed with obvious 4/4 patterns and bland pre-set beats. Instead it greets the listener with a progressive and artfully arranged selection of styles, including trip hop, breaks and ambient. It could be even interpreted as a loose concept album of sorts, looking at identity, life and liberation across a variety of immaculately forged sounds. Complemented by some deft samples, everything is given a perfect sense of balance. Nothing is too fussy, reliant on fleeting music trends. In production since the start of last year, it’s long been an ambition of Hook’s to create a work which deviates in part from club music and form something with a vivid emotional resonance.
Perhaps the most obviously ‘pop’ orientated work of the collection is Outsiders. Offsetting a thrusting lower end with almost chirpy synth sounds, it adds in a selection of mantras for the hopeful underdogs of the world. If anything, as a potentially powerful youth movement, electronic music right now needs more subtle political statements like this. In a similar vein, Democracy takes a familiar protest chant and pairs it with rhythmic tribal beats and some seriously lush pads.
My Mindy Lou drops everything for a glorious extended dub workout. Gentle vocals leave plenty of space for tight percussion and deep evocative rhythms. In any other year, this track could have evolved in a festival staple. Providing maybe the most dance-floor orientated arrangement of the album is Somewhere, Sometime, a rolling tech house monster which drags you along in its effervescent and undeniably groovy euphoria. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a nicely turned out piano riff.
Where Asylum Earth shines is in the repeated demonstrations of restraint it offers. The less obvious route is often taken – when it would had been easy to rely on cheese or bombast. The closing Lunatics Reprise might have ‘benefitted’ from an enormous kick drum powering it along. It certainly would have given us a stunning piece of stadium house, but this would have created something markedly less compelling.
In fact, it’s moments like this when you understand where Hook is coming from with that titular Soul. We’re not indulging in plastic emotions or attempting to seize a fleeting moment of fulfilment. This is electronic music built to last, while still reminding us of how far the genre has come.
Nick Hook’s Asylum Earth album is available to buy on Fri 24 July 2020. Find out more at: www.jeepersmusic.co.uk