CHLLNGR is the pseudonym of Copenhagen-based produced Steven Jess Borth II, best known for his remixes for The XX and MIA. Haven is his attempt to craft a debut LP that builds on his bass heavy, dub influenced roots. Composed during the winter months (where the sun sets around 4pm daily), the album has a dark and haunted vibe, not too dissimilar to Salem’s excellent King Night.
With Haven, Borth takes a minimalistic approach, tending to focus on hypnotic percussion loops while letting layers of brittle synths and distorted vocals build underneath. On the album’s first single, Ask For, there is nothing more than sparse 808 beat and a few synth stabs to carry the track. There is a brief moment on Sun Down when wobbly bass and vocal chops lock into an undeniable groove, but the synth horns jump in next are down right laughable and ruin the track. Things finally get interesting on At Last, where the bouncy percussion helps to pick up the pace. As the vocals are warped into a distorted wall of sound, it feels like Borth is finally hitting on something original and engaging.
My biggest complaint is that as an album, Haven feels half baked. There are a handful of interesting ideas here, but no single track really works for me. Perhaps I’m looking for something that Borth and his band of collaborators weren’t ambitious enough to deliver. The album certainly works as ambient background noise, but it completely falls apart under close scrutiny. Borth is a gifted producer, but he doesn’t appear to have the chops to create something worth Haven’s 38 minute running time.