Just over a year and a half since the release of his debut album, Speed Of Life, Serbian-born, Australia-based DJ/producer Dragan Roganovic, aka Dirty South, returns to the fold with his second studio effort, With You. Not only is the record the soundtrack to an accompanying 38-minute film directed by the house musician himself, but it also features vocal contributions from a range of impressive acts, including Rudy, Ruben Haze, J Hart, FMLYBND, Kids Without Instruments and Sam Martin
With You is a twelve-track collection of warm, melodic dance tunes – many of which possess a strong pop sensibility. Characterized by their easygoing romanticism and use of euphoric airy synths, the tracks easily gel together. The majority of the songs are notably radio-friendly, with more than a couple of them resembling some of the year’s better EDM chart crossover tracks. At its best, With You is heartfelt and almost tranquil. At its worst, the tracks begin to sound undemanding, saccharine and almost a bit cheesy.
Dirty South’s production throughout With You is solid and engaging – if maybe a little too formulaic at times. The 36-year old encases his electro/pop creations in pretty, though altogether similar soundscapes. This helps with cohesion, but could leave a listener wanting more. The stronger tracks on the album take their time to make impact. In step with the LP’s chilled demeanour, they’re straightforward and obey the sacred rules of a radio hit whilst making the best use of their unhurried momentum.
The project’s lead single, “Unbreakable,” featuring Sam Martin, is an earnest pop song. Without losing any club appeal, the record soars thanks to Dirty South’s winding, layered melodies. The lyrics, while a little rote, are still rather effective.
At the song’s breakdown, when Martin sings, “You’re halfway through the feeling, but you don’t have to tremble/And I could let you know, we could live beyond the shadow” – you believe him. The tune doesn’t over rely on its hooks to take flight, and much of the track’s magic lies in Martin’s paced delivery.
Taking its lead from “Unbreakable,” “One Breath” brings attention to the tuneful crooning of J Hart and boasts a lot of the same appeal. Its poetic lyrics and heartfelt sentiment sit uniquely over the song’s trippy drumbeat, an element that keeps the song from going flat.
Kids Without Instruments give one of two achingly cool and unaffected performances on “The Best Days.” The tune starts out bare, with lonely vocals enigmatically sitting upon a distinctive beat, before the track utilizes its memorable hook to morph into a shimmering synth-pop concoction.
The atmospheric title track is a sun-soaked highlight and it’s easy to see how the piece could be used as part of a film’s soundtrack. Dirty South uses FMLYBND’s delicate vocal to create soulful magic without overreaching, unlike a few of the tracks that precede it.
There are a handful of songs on With You that misfire in their attempt to conjure up the breezy, beach-side allure showcased in the project’s finest moments. Various tracks towards the bottom end of the tracklisting struggle to demonstrate the depth that their lyrics allude to. For instance, despite a sincere performance from Rudy, “Live Love Forever” ends up a little too sugary sweet in its quest to express undying commitment to the object of its affection.
Elsewhere, the strong groove of “Drifting” isn’t enough to stop the cut from surrendering to an acute blandness. Alongside the prowling production of “The Unknown” these songs come close to qualifying as background music, demonstrating no real complexity and becoming a bit tepid.
Resembling the dystopian chug of The Chromatics’ “Tick Of The Clock,” “Tunnel Vision” is the black sheep of the LP with its menacing bass-line, jagged synths and enigmatic, ghostly vocal pops. The piece is a brave departure from the rest of the album’s more accessible material. However, in the end, the project’s summery outlook eclipses the uncertain track.
At times, Wish You lacks a spontaneity that could easily lift it another level. Sure, songs like”Walking On The Sun” and “In The Shadow” are fine electro/pop hybrids, but something a little more cutting edge and unpredictable would’ve really invigorated the tracklist for Dirty South‘s latest effort.
Ultimately, With You will best serve radio playlists. The LP doesn’t exactly push things forward or tear down musical boundaries, but it does deliver a wide range of very listenable, textured dance/pop numbers.