Danny L Harle is a real person. It may seem odd how that simple fact is newsworthy, but in the rubberized world of PC Music, humanity is unexpected. After all, the British label has exhibited a penchant for artifice and obscurantism: It was started by an until-recently anonymous producer (A.G. Cook), has stoked controversy with SOPHIE’s gender-ambiguous moniker, and amused or dumbfounded the internet with artful personas (QT). Even when the collective is presented via the unassuming Harle, a bespectacled producer from London who studied classical music at Goldsmiths University, you are still allowed a little skepticism.
Harle has been a longtime PC Music associate, but was barely on the internet’s radar as it reached peak opinion polarization on the label and its repertoire of tinny, thoroughly synthetic electronic pop. Now, all eyes are on Harle as he releases the Broken Flowers EP, PC Music’s first release as a partner of “truly ancient music industry legend” (as they put it), Columbia Records. Broken Flowers exhibits all the sonic touchstones of the PC Music palette — lustrous synths, blips and squeaks, high-pitched female vocals — but it eases up on the label’s signature irreverence and irony for something a little more accessible. At four tracks, it’s a small glimpse into Harle’s sound and philosophy, though not necessarily the future direction of PC Music.
What Broken Flowers reveals is that Harle is focused first and foremost on writing good pop tunes, as well as the immense difficulty that comes with that task. The first two tracks, “Broken Flowers” and “Forever”, are intricately layered and arranged songs that soar effortlessly. The skittering drum sounds and shimmery synths of the former recall Disclosure, its perky melody reaching chiptune highs. The celebratory “Forever” climbs a simple melody punctuated with blasts of synth stardust and cascades with a cheeky keyboard solo and a trilling flourish. It revisits the lyrical themes of eternity and unity Harle touched on in previous single “In My Dreams”, boasting platitudes and superlatives so stereotypically pop that you can’t help but be impressed at how efficiently Harle has distilled the genre’s sugary essence.
“We are here right now/ I need you to know/ You just make me feel like we’ll do this forever/ Hold on tight/ Here we go/ I need you to know/ I will always remember,” goes the chorus, and with that you’ve already got the carpe diem impulse, earnest soul-baring, the warnings before a roller coaster ride, and a longing for infinity. It’s both pure and utterly blank, and also reminiscent of the sweet, delirious pop music of Carly Rae Jepsen.
Although Harle’s songs still don’t have much personality, they are less artificial than much of PC Music’s oeuvre. The vocalist of “Broken Flowers” actually sounds like a person; her vocals retain a human timbre and a hint of an accent (“Ah thought ah was free”) until Harle gleefully chops her words up. On “Without You”, the vocals are not antiseptic but ambiguous: Is she singing “baby” or “maybe”? “Just me” or “trust me”? On this third track, the ecstatic mood takes a dip into a more fearful atmosphere, even quietly desperate. The vocalist sings plaintively of being alone as sounds fall away, the moments of quietude acting as empty space for you to step into, to “come close to me/ Right now.”
Harle does not indulge the PC Music label’s love of provocation until the final song, “Awake For Hours”, which is really a remix of “Broken Flowers” with Harle’s madcap production run wild. He injects mutated sounds he probably borrowed from SOPHIE, some sickeningly sweet, others abrasive and dissonant. He chops up his vocalists’ words with fresh urgency and audaciously trips up his own song like a skipping CD until the glitch becomes a beat in its own right. Nevertheless, it never extends into a satisfactory jam on a bodily level.
Amidst the cotton candy lyrics of “Forever”, one line is weighted with seriousness: “It’s hard to see/ When you are so close.” This insight seems relevant to the music listeners across the web who’ve scrutinized and debated the crisis of authenticity PC Music has produced, a crisis that can be summed up in two questions: “Is this serious?” and “Is a real person behind this?” With Harle, the latter question is unnecessary, because you can put his name to a face. But the former anxiety is equally irrelevant, as it doesn’t sound like Harle cares if his music is serious. It only matters if the music is good.
Essential Tracks: “Forever”, “Awake For Hours”