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Wednesday, Jul 23 2003
In an all-too-typical pattern plaguing Yankee dance music, San Diego's H_Foundation -- DJs Hipp-E and Halo -- had to first garner the attention and respect of an overseas record label (Scotland's Soma, most famous for introducing France's Daft Punk to the world) before a sizable American imprint like Astralwerks would even sneeze in its direction. Not so for its DJ career. The duo is just about as in-demand in the United States as in places like London and Ibiza. While DJs don't always make for the most innovative producers, H_Foundation has come up with a decent debut album commensurate to its experience spinning feel-good house. Sun-drenched and spliffed-out, the warm tones and shimmering sound effects reflect years of playing records up and down the Pacific Coast.

With a rhythm almost as aimless and noodly as the pseudo-poetry on top of it, the title track doesn't start things off on the most representative note; later, a weak stab at some kind of tribal feeling, "Broken Arrow," limps along just below the groove radar. But these songs are misleading and detract from the true heart of what's good here: a simple vocal house-music anthem like "Tonight"; the meld of live guitar and metallic clicks with soaring string chords on "Feelin'"; and the saucy talk and filtered sweeps of sound that swirl around the spare, foregrounded snares of "So Fine." These are among the songs the duo has thoroughly tested while DJing, and their refinements stand out. Ultimately it is the dance floor where H_Foundation excels, so it follows that Environments succeeds both in re-creating the club vibe at home and as a solid tool for DJs who require some sure-fire peak-hour jams. Astute enough to not fool with its proven formula but still willing to attempt some after-hours, post-club listening (for better or worse), H_Foundation delivers a record that bodes well for a pair of exciting DJs still growing into their roles as musicians.

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Tamara Palmer


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