An uproariously fun battle of the beats
Listening to Danny L Harle’s brand of pop music is like driving around in a Subaru Crosstrek strapped to a jet engine. It’s loud to the point where you can feel it in your gut, supercharged well beyond its conventional boundaries, and moves about twice as fast as it’s supposed to. But unlike a Subaru Crossjet (patent pending), Harle’s music is real, and it’s got real staying power.
The native Londoner found plenty of past success with a conventional albeit glitchy sound–his singles “Broken Flowers” and “In My Dreams” both landed him on several year-end lists–but he’s since ventured into a blown-out, hyperenergetic, and undeniably campy style that’s uniquely his own. That’s all culminated in Harle’s 2021 debut album, Harlecore, a conglomeration of euphoric club bangers, abrasive house cuts, ethereal ambient soundscapes and hyperpop musings that would make even 100 gecs proud.
Some might question the timing of Harle’s debut release: why drop a collection of souped-up to-the-max dance tracks in the middle of a pandemic? But Harlecore couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s an uproariously fun, hyperspeed caricature of the now-ancient genre of club music, and the record’s unceasing efforts to push pop music to its limits serve as both a reminder and a supplement for all the nights out people have missed.
Harlecore sees the English producer collaborate with four different personas. DJ Danny is all Harle, contributing a batch of shimmering club bangers. Then there’s MC Boing, who enlists the furious chipmunk rapping and sly humor of Lil Data for his glitchy, hyperspeed dance tunes. DJ Mayhem, with the help of Hudson Mohawke, brings some edge to the group with a caustic house sound. And DJ Ocean builds angelic ambient passages around downright celestial vocals from Caroline Polachek.
The record opens with a sampling platter of Harle’s splintered musical brain, from the larger-than-life club sound of “Where Are You Now” to the off-the-walls wackiness of “Boing Beat,” from the blown-out griminess of “Interlocked” to the swelling ambience of “Ocean’s Theme.” Each persona has a distinct sound. But they all sound like Harle, with a penchant for grandiose compositions, unconventional rhythms and general zaniness.
Each ”collaborator” also has a diverse catalogue of tracks that show off the full range of their sound. DJ Danny can be melancholy like on “On a Mountain” or impassioned like on “Take My Heart Away.” MC Boing can pull out a glitchy analog beat like on “Piano Song” or a more conventional synth sound like on “Car Song.” None of the personas are one trick ponies.
Danny, Boing, Mayhem and Ocean balance each other out well across the record. Every track has a larger-than-life aura, but each DJ adds something different to Harlecore. DJ Danny supplies the steady, reliable club favorites. MC Boing switches things up with an unconventional sound. DJ Mayhem is the sparkplug, jolting the listener with fresh energy. And DJ Ocean provides a breather from the mayhem, giving your pulse some time to correct itself.
Harle certainly takes a risk by pursuing such a conceptual album, but it pays off. He meticulously builds out the personality and sound of each persona, to the point where he could give them each their own full-length release if he wanted to. Even more impressive is the interplay between the four characters, as each interjects with their own compelling sound and balances out the others. Harlecore is nonstop fun during a time when people really need it.