Releasing a club album in the middle of a global pandemic can go one of two ways. It can feel like the record is tapping into something resilient and joyful, like the perfect disco of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, which had us all shimmying around our kitchen months into lockdown, or it can feel devoid of context, like something integral is missing, like Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, which despite being a very solid record, felt specifically calibrated for dancefloors and pride parades, and didn’t translate easily into people’s living rooms.
Harlecore is the long-awaited debut from PC Music super-producer Danny L Harle (best known for collaborations with Caroline Polachek and Charli XCX). And perhaps it’s because the end of lockdown feels (tentatively) within reach, but for me Harlecore falls more into the Dua camp than the Gaga camp – it feels like a record which acknowledges the deep weirdness of our present rather than pushing it aside. Harlecore bills itself as an ‘immersive digital experience’, with each of its 13 tracks representing a different room in a virtual club. Harle has a madcap, magpie-like approach to genre, and on Harlecore this is represented by fictional collaborations with different DJs. The work with DJ Boing (frequent PC Music collaborator Lil Data) is all helium rap and crunchy, insistent makina; DJ Mayhem (Hudson Mohawke) brings bone-rattling beats; DJ Ocean (Caroline Polachek) is responsible for Harlecore‘s twinkly, restorative moments, while DJ Danny (Harle himself) is behind the panoramic pop of single ‘On a Mountain’, and stately opener ‘Where Are You Now.’
If that sounds batshit crazy, that’s because it is – but it also works. Harlecore‘s gimmick is tempered with some incredibly solid melodies. The majority of the tracks here are devilishly catchy, and they don’t hang around long, either – most don’t pass the three and a half minute mark. Like a good night out, it’s over far too soon, and Harle’s kaleidoscopic variety show should be lauded for its ambition.