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Qualm *
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  • Photographer: Fabian Hammerl.
  • Arranger: Helena Hauff.
  • Helena Hauff's second album is closer to the stark, gritty sound of her early singles than the more melodic, suspenseful electro-techno of her full-length debut, 2015's Discreet Desires. The tracks generally consist of just a few layers -- heavily distorted beats, pulsating acid synth lines -- but they're upfront, direct, and highly energetic, never sounding undercooked or tossed-off. Opener "Barrow Boot Boys" recalls the thundering, extra-crunchy electro of I-F, with the focus entirely on rhythm, commanding the listener's attention. "Lifestyle Guru" has a faster, bouncier beat, with unhinged acid pulsations coursing through its veins, perfectly encapsulating the energy of a sweaty warehouse rave. The album does pause for a few reflective, beatless interludes, such as "Entropy Created You and Me," which features billowing, nearly childlike melodies over digital fuzz which approximates the vibration of an idle snare drum. Similarly, "Qualm" is a brief piece filled with astral melodies and static sweeps, sounding like a movie scene offering a minor revelation before something exciting takes place. Sure enough, "No Qualms" adds a booming electro beat to the same melody, setting its starry introspection in motion. These types of stargazing melodies and tense acid rumblings worm their way into other tracks such as the swirling, quasi-goth "Panegyric" and the electro stormer "Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg," which spends the first few minutes teasing its melody before fully blooming halfway into the track. Closing number "It Was All Fields Around Here When I Was a Kid" slows down the tempo and offers a final moment of wistful nostalgia. Qualm generally shifts away from the Drexciyan melodies of Discreet Desires, but it's just as precisely focused as that album, and anyone who has enjoyed her prior recordings or Hauff's unrelenting DJ sets should enjoy this one as well. ~ Paul Simpson
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