Nic Fanciulli - Balance 021

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When the email hit my inbox advising me of the imminent release of the latest in the Balance series, I was genuinely excited – probably more excited than I’ve been about a music release in some time. After all, a CD release in the progressive genre is a rare event these days and the fact it was mixed for the amazing Balance series by Nic Fanciulli, a DJ I’ve long admired, made it especially exciting.

The first mix contains twenty-seven tracks that have been skilfully layered and they’re definite slow burners. My first impression was of long periods where you’re left waiting for something to happen; but once you manage to strip away your own expectations and really listen, you begin to understand just how cleverly constructed this mix actually is. Admittedly, there are some weak points such as the truly dull U Dig and the quite frankly annoying vocal of Bounce to This, but they are few and far between. I’d rather focus the highlights of the journey, which are far more abundant.

The early part of the mix slowly wraps you in the gorgeously mellow groove of Break Down and Goma, which seduce you into believing that the first mix is going to be a laid back lounge affair; but really it’s just Nic being playful. Subtle shifts and quick changes in tracks build the tempo nicely, seemingly without you even noticing that it’s happening. Weak points notwithstanding, I suddenly find myself caught in a stream of infectious music that is without doubt the best sequence on the entire mix. From the gorgeously titled I Love You, But I’ve chosen DISCO through Jooris Voorn’s brilliant Spank the Maid right into Heavy Rain, this section of the album has me grinning from ear to ear every time I hear it.

Until the end of the first disc Nic parries and feints brilliantly, locking you into a groove and then building nicely before suddenly dropping back and smoothing things back down once more. I am in awe of the sequencing of the first mix as it’s just so logically and tightly constructed: it really is a work of art. It also finishes off in some style, with a nice lift in tempo over the final four or five tracks that has me salivating and hoping for more of the same on the second disc.

The second mix, however, is a slightly more confusing affair. The first issue I have to deal with is that are twenty-six tracks listed on the cover and yet only twenty-five recognised by my iPod or my CD player – that makes it rather difficult to work out where you’re up to and which tracks you actually like. Of greater disappointment, however, is that the brilliant sequencing which makes the first disc such a joy isn’t as evident here.

Things start really well during the first section of the second mix: some simply beautiful music woven together to start the long build to the more dance-floor oriented music, and some nice shifts in pace that have you hoping for something truly special to emerge. The problem is that nothing truly special ever arrives. Nic falls into a pattern of long build-ups which culminate in some really nice moments, but the gaps between the nice moments are too often too long. These build-ups are tightly mixed together and use many different songs, but some of the tracks are so similar that it’s difficult to appreciate the work that has gone into creating it without studying it in minute detail.

This might have something to do with the selections on the second disc, with all the releases coming from Nic’s own label, Saved Recordings. Other DJs I’ve spoken to in the past feel that it’s far more challenging to create a truly memorable mix if you allow limitations to be placed upon you, and Nic’s choice to showcase his own label appears to have clipped his wings to some degree. I understand that Nic is proud of the producers he works with, and the music that they have created, and in many cases I can see why; but I can’t help thinking that Nic would have made different choices if he’d had the whole World of music to select from.

Despite these limitations, Nic has still managed to craft an album worthy of attention and the second mix eventually builds into something worth sticking with as Nic brings it home in style. It isn’t apparent on the first, second, third or even fourth listens, but given time and the right mood, this is a mix that has the power to surprise you. Some of the people who have already heard this mix liken it to a warm-up album, something to get you in the mood before you leave the house, and, in part, I understand that sentiment. I’ve listened to this album repeatedly, however, and I now know there is more to it than that. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I know I will be returning to it time and time again to see if I can work it out.

Balance 021: Nic Fancuilli is out now through Balance Music. Distributed through EMI.

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