Vox Portent, the moniker of Johannesburg musician Steve Hogg, first caught our attention in February with…
Vox Portent, the moniker of Johannesburg musician Steve Hogg, first caught our attention in February with his appearance on P.S.Bar, the second naasMUSIC compilation. His track, ‘That Feeling’, introduced us to his dreamy brand of chillwave with slow-build euphoric-synth swells and intricate, playful rhythmic work in between a solid hip hop beat. Lucid marks the debut offering from Hogg. It is a free-fall dive into a 44-minute cluster of 8 tracks of euphoria. While the album wears Hogg’s influences (Felix Laband, Bonobo, Flume, Nicolas Jaar and Markus Wormstorm) quite clearly on its sleeve, it succeeds in forming an overall unique sound. This is the most noticeable ebb and flow of this work and provides the title of Lucid with some (intentional or unintentional) substance. It drifts out of influence-heavy moments into those that are purely his, and transports the listener out of moments of familiarity – where the ‘dream’ is questioned – into those where the authenticity of Hogg’s production provides convincing affirmation.
The opening track, ‘Flow’, sets a mature tone as its impressively gradual layering reveals Hogg’s writing qualities of patience and vision which ascend into a hypnotic pulsing separated only by the subtle cyclical use of effects and percussion. It also embodies the distinction between familiarity and that of something new, with moments that are pleasantly reminiscent of Felix Laband and those that announce a Vox Portent with whom one is to be constantly acquainted in the following encounters. The second and third tracks, ‘Hold You’ and ‘Dreams’, introduce his use of more recognisable beat-production which, at times, may be over-simplified in a Flume-like fashion to allow for experimentation with the synth work and effects that float above. However, the familiarity of the beats is useful in its being the element of Hogg’s sound which is most easily consumed, allowing his experimentation with the accompanying sounds to become the main focus of more applied listening.
‘Slightly Falling’, Hogg’s favourite track, is the cleverly placed mid-album highlight. It reveals his beat-work skills which had yet to be properly boasted – but only after another dreamy, minute long build. Amidst strong hints to his Bonobo influence, it is here where Hogg’s song-writing and structure feel most natural. While the previous two tracks held their enjoyable chillwave qualities, ‘Slightly Falling’ departs from this comfort zone and finds Hogg in his element. This carries through to ‘Seasons’ which starts off with a shuffle that is, again, pleasantly reminiscent of Felix Laband. The interplay between beat and effects is well executed and the guitar loop which enters towards the end is an appropriate addition to the otherwise synth and effect dominated album.
The last three tracks work together to bring the listener out of the ‘dream’ as carefully as possible. ‘Touch’ is arguably the track most removed from the album’s norm. It sits at the back of the mind with a meditative tone, tugging away from the luscious presence of the previous two tracks. ‘Journey’ is another highlight, with a sustained pad chord progression that elevates into a swirl of chimes and percussion. Accompanied by a distant vocal sample, it’s perfectly as a penultimate track. ‘Submerged’ does a great job of delivering one back down from where ‘Journey’ left the listener happily stranded in mid-air, with a darker and ominously more reality-driven tone.
Lucid’s greatest achievement is the well-rounded and balanced introduction to Vox Portent that it provides. While Hogg’s influences are still clearly identifiable, the inspiration he has drawn from them has been sincerely moulded and appropriately blended into his production. His derivations come off as sensible and honest; holding integrity in high esteem and avoiding the risk of trying too hard to be different. This sensibility is supplemented by recurring moments of blooming and authentic experimentation, indicating a thorough understanding of the genre in which he’s announced himself. Vox Portent has a lot more to offer us in the realm of refining his sound to become more than a sum of his influences. But it’s clear that the appreciation he has for them and his resounding production abilities will see that this transformation is seamless.
Listen to the album and download it for free on his Bandcamp.