There are occasions to rush things and others to take your time. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race and sometimes less thought more action produces the best results. Nowhere is that truer than in the world of music. Some great albums have been born over the space of a few weeks, even days. Similarly, there are countless examples of albums fastidiously tweaked over the course of years, sometimes decades. This debut album by the US born but Wales raised artist Dauwd falls in the later camp. An album which saw Dauwd meticulously craft these seven tracks over the course of a full year.
Despite Theory of Colours being Dauwd’s (aka Dauwd Al Hilali) debut album, he has been a feature of the Berlin club scene over the last six years, releasing music on such renowned labels as Ghostly International and Kompakt. This album on Ninja Tune’s Technicolour imprint proves without a doubt that a year of labour was well spent as he has created a sprawling, self-assured and often confounding album. Theory of Colours is infused with a sense of Dauwd’s character as an artist with his two distinct sides on show. Firstly, there are the lighter yet exacting and detailed, soundscapes that gently unfurl as he nimbly fills the spaces with light and shade. The other sees him exhibit an edgier streak with dancier beats acting as magnets for his unshowy and understated synth and keyboard work.
The opening two tracks are representative of this restless, dancefloor-ready side to the album. “Macadem Theory” opens with the warm exhalation of shimmering, atmospheric synths before being quickly supplanted by a confident, swaggering beat. The synths bob and weave with jabs of glorious noise. The first single from the album, “Leitmotiv”, skirts around a single piano note before further notes gently weave their way between the speakers, like distant sounds echoing through a thick mist. Before Dauwd allows the track to become too ambient, it suddenly takes a left turn, becoming an otherworldly Detroit house influenced track with deftly struck piano chords and a strutting beat that quickly grabs you tightly by the hips and doesn’t let go. It’s the song that will surely see Dauwd hit many year-end best-of lists. From this point, it would be understandable to assume that one has Dauwd pegged. That commanding, invigorating techno spiced with house is what he is all about.
The timeless “Murmure” is much less defined with a more ambient, shapeless opening like wisps of smoke from a freshly extinguished fire. Dauwd expertly weaves in sounds that replicate the sounds of the jungle over the repetitive pulse of a beat. To shift mood in this way takes real confidence and it soon becomes quite clear that he is assured enough to show that he has more than one trick up his sleeve. “Glass Jelly” is a masterful lesson in how to manipulate and layer drumbeats. The track initially lurches forward, riding an urgent beat before being married to the shake and a shuffle of percussion. It becomes ever more random like a boat being buffeted by the waves in a storm before a steadying krautrock influenced beat catches the sails. It’s this masterful use of percussion that marks the track out as something exceptional.
“Analogische Memories” is another multi-layered track imbued with a smooth groove coupled with the thrum and throb of a simple beat. It Incorporates elements of glitchy, electro-jazz that continually changes shape as he toys with the notion of structure. Once again showing how he skillfully uses vintage synths and modulators to evoke the elasticity of space and time. The title track is a wondrous, spacious piece that aptly sees him create with an abundance of sounds like a painter deftly exercising a profound knowledge of colour. Over the plink of airy, shimmering keyboard notes and atmospheric synths, Dauwd conjures the infinite beauty of the sky on a summer’s day. It’s a striking conclusion which invites the listener to sit back and think, which is a feeling that’s prevalent throughout the album.
In a saturated market where new DJs and artists seem to appear fully formed every week, it takes a lot for a new artist to give themselves a clear chance of recognition. In Dauwd’s case, he has done so by showing his hand gently over the course of these seven tracks. They are rich and full with understated textures seamlessly fused together that he allows to stretch and expand or to contract and shrink. In different ways, each of these seven tracks entices you to engage with them, whether it be the way they move your feet or the manner in which they engage your brain. Taking his time over the making of this album was time very well spent indeed.