Photo by Jessica Rosenkrantz
With just one release — a 2008 Border Community 12″ — to his name, Wesley Matsell probably hasn’t made your watch list just yet. You’re likely quite a bit hipper to Studio Barnhus, the Stockholm record label/DJ trio/production studio fronted by Axel Boman, an it-producer whose wonderfully loopy conjuring of house has given him commendably long legs. (His partners in crime, Kornél Kovács and Petter Nordkvist, have thus far kept lower profiles.) One doesn’t come to the label arm of Studio Barnhus, now on their ninth release, for house music that’s screwed together in the usual ways. Like an Ikea bookshelf assembled sans directions, the label’s output throws a fair share of quirks into familiar forms. The pattern continues with Matsell’s Studio Barnhus debut, a strikingly fresh EP that pits Boman-style bounce against synth textures that scream Border Community.
Even for a label not terribly prone to shyness, Studio Barnhus finds a new rallying cry in Zones Within Zones: “Here’s your trance, now dance!!” Their yelps aren’t immediately apparent during “The Unmaker”‘s opening moments, with muted percussion shuffling through the mix in a style familiar to anyone who’s followed Boman for the last year. But once snappy hi-hats spur it into a gallop, the big, sandpapery synths that define this release quickly come into view, and before you know it, they’re coming at you from all sides. Matsell nails the formula particularly well (and with notable physicality) on “Ultra Vivid Parse,” where trance-y chords seem to accidently wander into a Dance Mania party tune and somehow fit in just great. “Mind Vs. Mind,” recalling Legowelt nearly as much as something James Holden would chart, may be the collection’s most divisive moment: deploying its gigantic arpeggios requires great care and restraint (or straight-up balls, perhaps), but in these post-”Adrenalin” times, I have to believe that DJ is out there. “Pyramideleven,” Matsell’s beatless comedown, blasts us farther out into space rather than coax us back to earth. Even for an EP as brash as this one, the move feels appropriate: we could certainly keep lapping up house records that are straightforward and proper and polite, but when we’re having this much fun, why would we?