PVA – Toner EP (2020)

‘The best is yet to come’, intones Ella Harris throughout Talks, the lead track on PVA’s brand new Toner EP. If this is true then PVA will definitely be a band to watch in 2021.

In fact, PVA were supposed to be a band to watch in 2020 but the world had other plans. Having established themselves on the vibrant South London live music scene at the end of last year, with their debut single Divine Intervention creating a buzz, it seemed 2020 was all set to be PVA’s breakout year. Plans were in place for a busy live schedule and they had even been invited to SXSW Festival. Things obviously didn’t turn out that way, but judging by the fizzing half-hour slab of dance-punk that is the Toner EP, PVA didn’t let it bring them down.

Like the live scene which birthed the band, Toner is a messy tangle of diverse influences ranging from disco, new wave and punk to electro-house. All of these and more are on display on Talks, which opens with a glittery synth, evoking scenes of glitter-balls revolving over a smoky dancefloor. The jerky guitar line is straight out of 1980s new wave, and Josh Baxter’s vocals channel the awkward energy of Talking Heads, as he switches in one breath from disinterested slur to spluttering accusation.

The three band members each bring various influences to the party; Baxter and Harris cut their teeth at raves and warehouse parties, whereas drummer Louis Satchell grew up on funk and soul. These latter two styles come through on Talks in the bubbly rhythm and stabs of organ that fill out the track – the whole thing feels like a fizzy, heady cocktail best enjoyed in the middle of the dancefloor, before it gets spilt among the flailing limbs.

Sleek Form, as the title suggests, is more stripped-down and focused, with an ominous electro synth line taking the lead, underpinned by a solid 4/4 kick drum. If Talks is a track designed to fill the dancefloor at the start of the night, then Sleek Form is would fit in the peak-time slot in a house DJ set. Laying icily detached vocals over thumping electro-house is not exactly ground-breaking, The Knife and Miss Kittin spring to mind, but it’s a potent combination when done well and PVA pull it off with impressive self-assurance for a young band.

Of the three original tracks on the EP – the second half being made up of remixes from three different producers – Exhaust/Surroundings is probably the most interesting and according to Ella Harris, is a ‘sonic representation of what we’ve been trying to do with the whole EP’. Essentially two songs in one, it charts a winding course through disparate influences beginning with new wave, industrial and post-punk until the breakdown midway through. Here the band’s ravier elements come to the fore with a Daft Punk-style overdriven synth riff and chiptune acid bassline. Everything comes together for the final section – a rousing climax with Harris and Baxter sharing vocal duties, sounding even more like Talking Heads…if Talking Heads had released a track on Ed Banger Records.

The three remixes comprising the second half of the EP each give a slightly different take on the source material, without departing radically from PVA’s electronic foundations. The most marked change in tempo comes from Lynks’ remix of Talks. The artist previously known as Lynks Afrikka – the name change possibly prompted by fears of legal action from a well-known deodorant manufacturer – opens up the mix and slows down the tempo with a swinging dubstep beat, swapping out the kick drum for shuffling hi-hats and ricocheting handclaps. A snippet of Harris’ vocal is tweaked to make it sound autotuned and then sliced and filtered, giving the track a much more urban vibe than the original.

The highly in-demand young producer, Mura Masa (aka Alex Crossan) repurposes Talks into a slice of perfectly serviceable French-style electro-house. Stripped of its new wave awkwardness, the track is driven by a perky synth riff and rubbery bassline; transformed into pure DJ dancefloor fodder. I might’ve expected something more from a producer who’s collaborated with Chic, Stormzy and Damon Albarn among many others, but the track pulses with positive energy and maybe we should heed the vocal sample that leads out of the end of the track, ‘the best is yet to come’.

The final track on the EP is a remix of Exhaust/Surroundings credited to Girl Band/Daniel Fox. Dublin’s Girl Band are known for their abrasive and dissonant noise-rock and this is certainly the most formidable cut on the whole EP. Presumably the work of bassist Daniel Fox alone, it bangs along through seven minutes of unremitting industrial electro, with a brief breakdown and subsequent build-up to a pounding climax. It was probably a wise choice as last on the running order as the harshness could deter any casual listeners; personally it makes me long to be back in a dark basement rave – just the environment a track like this was made for.

Although their music takes its cue from a wide range of influences PVA describe themselves fundamentally as producing ‘dance music’. Given none of the remixes on Toner stray too far from the dancefloor, or alters the band’s glittery, effervescent production too drastically, it still feels like a coherent release. Albeit one that leaves you wanting more; wanting to be back in the crush of a gig in the back of a pub, or dancing for hours in a sweaty club surrounded by other people doing exactly the same. Let’s just hope PVA are right and that the best is yet to come.

This review originally appears in Still Listening Magazine.

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