Maara // Ultimate Reward

It’s refreshing, if not exactly surprising, to know you can still stumble across a label in 2021 and get that tingling feeling of discovering something fully formed. NAFF had escaped me up until now, and it was a buzz to discover a back catalogue with a bold, ear-snagging identity and a notably high benchmark for quality. The label was on a throwback early 90s steer when it started out three years go, juggling deepest house and smatterings of trancey throb with a certain presence and charm that keeps it on the right side of a very fine line. But in a short space of time a much wilder character has emerged, not least in the deliciously produced, braindance-minded albums from label founders Ex-Terrestrial and Priori. Add a stunning, smudged-out dub techno excursion from URA into last year’s overlooked gems, and the Canadian label has quietly edged itself into a space as one of the freshest outposts for dazzling, inventive electronics.

Following on the heels of Ambien Baby’s deadly, jungle-techno oriented Mind Kiss EP, the label maintains a lean towards faster club tracks. This is Montreal-based producer Maara’s first release, and it demands your attention from the off. The trippy sensibility that typifies a lot of NAFF output is still present, even as ‘Ultimate Reward’ canters along at 140 with a pervasively dark demeanour. Wigged-out slithers of sound dart around the linear thrust of the track, but they’re tastefully placed to add to the mystery rather than divert from it.

There’s a hi-tech polish to the production throughout, in stark opposition to trendy distortion and arch lo-fi – not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. ‘Der She Goes’ shimmers with the kind of glossy sound field you’d associate more with psytrance – hyper produced and engineered to the nth degree. The difference here is the polish is applied to compositions dealing in left of centre club gear and richly rendered electronica, and it sounds incredible. It’s dubby and moody, populated by breathless sprites floating in the mix, and made with a soundsystem ethic for heads down dancers. But it’s also totally upfront and made to be noticed, and therein lies the charm of Maara’s knockout debut.