HVOB – TOO
Austrian duo HVOB were discovered via SoundCloud. Part of a wave of early 2010’s producers whose break came inherently tied to burgeoning internet culture, what set them apart was not their presentation online, but rather as a live act. At the fore of the then emerging trend of combining live instrumentation and elements into electronic sets, the duo of Anna Müller and Paul Wallner slowly and quietly laid a path that’s since been walked by some of dance music’s current titans (Elderbrook and Rüfüs Du Sol come to mind). Müller’s vocal style arguably presaged the current sound of pop adopted by Lorde and Billie Eilish. Their sophomore effort, 2015’s Trialog, is perhaps more influential to the current state of electronic dance and pop music than anyone might realise and since then, they’ve gone on to evolve in a myriad of directions, from the smoky melodic techno of Silk to throbbing hard techno on Rocco.
TOO, their latest album, is tellingly diverse. Released track by track between November 2021 and now, in its full form TOO swings from propulsive big room techno, to mellow slow-burning tech-house, to emotive piano led electronica. It is alarmingly expansive for an album that clocks in at just eight tracks, and its unique release strategy seems designed to highlight its juxtapositions. Its title makes sense; HVOB can be this, and that too. In this case, TOO welcomes the dichotomy between the loud and the quiet of their craft. Bruise opens with pounding four on the floor techno, intermixed with Eurodance synths and hi-hat shimmers. Müller’s voice drips like honey, as the track evolves into something similar to Todd Terry’s remix of Missing. Müller’s voice is very much HVOB’s centre of gravity, the essential element around which everything else oscillates. On the melodic techno of Eyes Alive, she guides you gently into the song’s turning tides, emerging from the currents beyond the waves to welcome you into the full scope of her and Wallner’s soundscape. On the churning, rain soaked trip-hop of 2:16 she appears a full five minutes in, chanting a looped refrain as if casting a spell in some mythical language. HVOB’s chameleonic approach is quite remarkable, and hearing the duo shape shift from the propulsion of Bruise to the dirge of A Piece of Me speaks toward their mastery of their craft. Elsewhere, TOO begins an exploration into New Wave and post-punk territory, particularly late album standout Gluttony. Merging a techno pulse with mid-fi drum fills and a looped vocoder sample, Gluttony is soaked in the sex and louche glamour of the late 80’s underground, with Müller speak-singing in a near whisper. Kid Anthem is one of their hardest hitting tracks to date, its metallic New Wave/electropunk recalling Vitalic as its closest cousin. Kid Anthem ends TOO in a space outside of this galaxy, a menacing futuristic cut that reveals another facet to HVOB’s endless dexterity.
With the rise of the melodic tech-house movement that they were arguably an essential blueprint for, TOO once again sets HVOB on their own distinct path. Still, the album leaves you wanting them to dive deeper into the scope of tracks like Kid Anthem and Bruised, to push the style even further in new directions. The potential to catalyse the style once again is potent, with Müller’s almost folky, breathless vocals seamlessly applying themselves to sounds and ideas outside of their usual scope. TOO once again proves that they’re not so much playing to trends, they’re the ones setting them.
Listen to Gluttony from TOO below. HVOB will be performing live in London on May 7th at Electric, Brixton. Tickets are available here.