Ewan Pearson’s rise to international recognition on the global dance scene has taken an unusual route. A former Cambridge student with a Master’s degree in philosophy, his academic interest in dance music took a turn to the practical some time around 1997, when he first started putting out music as Maas. But it wasn’t until much more recently that his slew of production credits and (notably) remixes has made him a well-recognized name in electronic music circles. Then he went and produced the Rapture’s excellent Pieces of the People We Love, and that was that. Pearson’s got this affable, geeky aura about him. It shows in the way he writes enthusiastically about new tracks on his blog, and in the selections of songs he chooses to remix. But somehow at every turn he demonstrates his impeccable taste. And the news that he’s finished producing M83’s next album predictably had the music world chattering teeth with anticipation.
It’s Pearson’s taste that has made his transition from remixer to producer to celebrity DJ/mix compiler so smooth, so natural. We’ve
already seensome of the fruits of that this year with his solid set for Fabric 35 (even if the mix was somewhat overshadowed by what was to come one month later in the series). On Piece Work, we’re given the wonderful opportunity to review what it was about his remixes that made people sit up and take notice in the first place.
The great thing about Ewan Pearson’s remixes is that they allow us to have cake and eat it too. While retaining the outlines and, more importantly, the emotional landscape of original songs, Pearson is again and again able to extract and magnify undercurrents of great interest. The goal isn’t always to produce club bangers. If that were the case, Piece Work would be a dull, predictable affair. But the reinterpretations here show a remarkable level of care and attention to what made up the original song, instead of, say, just pasting one memorable melody over beats of a certain “characteristic” style. You don’t always hear this when a Pearson remix is included on a song’s single release, or included in a weekly dance music download or internet radio show. But together, as on Piece Work, it’s a powerful argument for the continuing ascendancy of this remarkable talent.
I’m not going to go into detail on the many different songs over Piece Work’s two CDs, but a few are worth picking out for their illustration of some of Pearson’s particular strengths. He makes Pet Shop Boys’ “Psychological” swirling and disconnected, a smoldering slow-build with the key being that the crescendo never becomes overt, and never resolves fully. He makes Playgroup’s “Make It Happen” glitchy and clicky and entirely different, weaving lines of saxophone and synth into something atmospheric, subtle and new. And Goldfrapp’s “Ride A White Horse” becomes a mammoth, two-part epic of electro-disco heaven. It captures the new feeling of Sally Shapiro transformed into something infinitely more dangerous, more sexual.
In a few places, as on his reinterpretation of Fields’ “Song for the Fields”, Pearson’s remixes seem a little half-hearted. Perhaps it’s a little too much retention of the feeling of an original track, or an over-reliance on vocals (or vocal layering) in place of innovative beat making. But really, there are only a couple of examples of this across both CDs. Through the vast majority of his work, Pearson impresses.
Piece Work is a valuable collation of work from a producer with the uncommon ability to excel at crafting both catchy pop and remarkable dance music. If you’re at all curious about Ewan Pearson and why he’s on the lips of enthusiasts around the world, this is definitely worth checking out.