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Album Review

Steven Jess Borth II, otherwise known as CHLLNGR, could never be accused of not being a student of electronic music. His full-length debut, Haven, draws liberally from the past 15 years of the genre, from the tribal house of "At Last" to the James Blake-ian post-dubstep of "Ask For" or "Someone." Borth's a master at finding a vocal hook and manipulating it, so songs like "Sundown," featuring fellow Copenhagener Quadron's Coco O., twist into something rather compelling, accented with quirky synths and plenty of clicky programmed drums, not quite straightforward but nowhere near unpredictable. (This isn't the consistent feature, however. "Dusty" sounds like it's something straight off the Brokedown Palace soundtrack, with the vocals unfortunately too clean and too processed to be taken particularly seriously.) It's these more instrumentally driven pieces on Haven, though, that are overall more interesting. He can go near pop, as a song like "Ask For" lopes around the hazy, drug-inspired approach made popular by bands like Salem and the Weeknd, feigning purposefulness (it even extrapolates and screws the synth from "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang"), or the complete opposite, as a track like "Out of Your Hands" revels in its near soundscape-ness. To be fair, it's a scary, trippy landscape the producer's creating, but it's one unconcerned with destination, and so accepts its aimlessness as an asset, and fares better for it; he can only be faulted here, perhaps, for not letting the tracks wander enough, cutting them off before they've been fully explored. In fact, it's this inclination to truncate that hurts CHLLNGR the most. It's as if he can't quite decide where he wants his songs to belong, the dancefloor or iPod, and is hesitant to see them to their natural end, stopping them before much has happened at all. Which isn't to say there aren't some great moments on Haven, because there are (the aforementioned "Ask For"; the title track), but until Borth learns how to realize his vision, his albums are going to fall a little short.

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