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Maxy Dutcher & John Hayes – Borealis Review

An epic journey across the stars

Sounds like…

An epic yet intimate journey across the stars.

The review

The beauty of Moderna Records is that you know that whatever they are releasing is going to be a luscious relaxing soundscape. What has been more exciting lately is that they’ve been spreading their roots further into more electronica based chill music. This is where Maxy Dutcher & John Hayes come in.

Their debut collaborative album ‘Borealis’ pulls together Hayes’ piano chops and Dutcher’s electronica together in an electric symphony of sorts. Across the 10 tracks, the two interweave instruments and motifs that evoke space and the stars. It merges the best of neo-classical piano and subdued but pulsating electronica and the album tells its own story too.

The early tracks on the album are slightly more aggressive with their use of synths. The bass gargles and buzzes across ‘Arrival’ and into the cyclic and entrancing ‘Veiled’ as the pulse of the drums thump and kick like a beating heart. It’s like a late-night dance for the stars – its got energy but its elegant. The piano plays a vital role in the melodies but it is never placed centre stage. It is carefully integrated into the mix so it guides the other instruments along and that is the key to Dutcher and Hayes’ collaboration – it feels like a union. The opening duo of tracks feel grande and intimate at the same time and that’s not an easy thing to do. ‘Spell’ and ‘Carousel’ move into a darker synth tone where bass and percussion take a more prominent role. These tracks will really appeal to the modular synth brigade because Maxy Dutcher uses a mixture of analogue and digital synths to create his work and getting that warmth digitally, again, is difficult to do.

Maxy Dutcher & John Hayes

The album hits a turning point when the central tracks ‘We Float’ and title track ‘Borealis’ kick in because the shift towards a more ethereal and plucked feel to the synths. These now take the lead on the melody section whilst the piano moves into a texture position in the song structure. It is clever because you can have blinky keyboards shooting notes like sky comets and they are softly drowned by the echo of the sumptuous piano playing back up. This style hits in nadir with ‘Arch Dance’ – possibly the closest the pair get to a dance track on the album. Repetition is used throughout the album by using simple but effective chord patterns and motifs. Here, along with ‘Veiled’ earlier, are the tracks that use that repetition to instil calmness to the listener.

The closing of the album allows both composers to slow down to an ambient and ethereal crawl. ‘Dream Walker’ is like a minimalist technopunk piece where the synths are wirey and chiptune like. The beat is slow and the space between the melodies is left alone to let the noise drift by carefully as if you are untethered in space. This then allows the piano to return in full force to lead the final two pieces. ‘Statis’ merges piano with blustering clouds of ambience. The mysterious shroud feels like a musical note slowly refracting in the light and it sounds infinitely cool. The closing track ‘Farewell (It’s Something)’ is the only time the piano is left to play alone. Its recording is gently distorted over time – again – as stated earlier its like a musical moment is being rotated in time in the light.

‘Borealis’ as an album simply works. When you think of the Aurora Borealis, its electronically charged particles colliding and creating light through the sun for us to see. Maxy Dutcher and John Hayes both use this kind of fuzzy collision and refraction in music which makes the album both majestic and poetic. Its full of great tracks to relax and unwind to that will wriggle into your brain without knowing it. If you can listen to it with a galaxy light or a clear sky video on YouTube – you’ll be having the ultimate chill out experience.

Recommended track: Veiled

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Maxy Dutcher & John Hayes

9.5

9.5/10

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