Paces: Vacation

Scott Wallace
2nd Mar 2016

Opening with the sound of lapping waves and a panting dog, Paces' debut album Vacation immediately earns its title. The hazy urban paradise that is conjures makes even more sense when you learn that the man behind the Paces moniker, Mikey Perry, hails from the Gold Coast.

Paces’ style – fractured beats, plinking synths, jazzy major seventh chords – is very much in line with current trends in dance music. At times he is reminiscent of Sydney-based producer Flume, though Paces’ productions have more of a sense of light and space. At times, the music on Vacation verges on being minimalist, and that’s to its advantage.

Paces’ productions seem to be always pushing and pulling, and their surfaces are supple and elastic. Often he’ll eschew an easily danceable beat in favour of texture and dynamics, as he does on “Hard for Me,” which is full of snapping silences and cascading drums. Paces’ more adventurous productions allow him to stand out from his contemporaries.

Every track features a different vocalist, from the smokey-voiced Kenzie May, to the slightly coarser Jess Kent, to American rapper Rye Rye, and even a heavily vocodered Guy Sebastian. Paces responds to each singer and allows their distinctive styles to blend with his work; May appears on the lugubrious, wistful highlight “Loop,” which contrasts nicely with Kent’s more playful appearance on the retro-minded “1993 (No Chill).”

The clear highlight is the single “Nothing’s Forever,” which features the distinctively girlish vocals of Perth artist KUČKA. Everything about the track is seriously in-the-pocket; the overlapping, interlocking synth parts and KUČKA’s breathy, sensual performance add up to a great track. “Nothing’s Forever” is perfectly emblematic of Paces’ style.

It’s a style that he doesn’t really diverge from a huge amount. There are surprises peppered throughout the record, but by the second half it becomes clear that the limited sonic palette with which Paces works can also feel like a crutch. Often it doesn’t feel like there’s enough invention and exploration for the entire thirteen-track album to hold up as well as it should.

There is plenty of texture to the album. It’s sleek and shiny and ultra high-def, full of sharp contrasts and saturated colours, but where it feels it’s lacking is in the hooks department. Tracks like “Playback” and “Sometimes” pass by without making much of an impression, despite the fact that on the surface they sound great.

With more focus on hooks, Vacation could have been a better, possibly even great album. There are certainly highlights that come through with the goods – “Blue” in the album’s last third is a summery delight as pleasurable as a dip in a calm ocean on a hot day – but as a whole, Vacation is uneven. Paces is clearly a terrific producer, but he has room to grow as a songwriter.

Paces is out digitally on Friday March 4. In Sydney, you can catch Paces launching the album on the same day with a special boat party.