PVA – ‘Toner’ EP review: no-nonsense beats and imperious ambition from the dancefloors of south London

Despite a derailed year, PVA push forward with a debut EP custom-built for sweaty raves in some of the capital's darkest rooms

When PVA burst out of South London’s DIY circuit this time last year with their near-perfect debut single, ‘Divine Intervention’, they looked unstoppable. Compact, economical songwriting and no-nonsense beats tessellated perfectly with smart production flourishes and a euphoric live show – what could possibly get in their way?

Fast forward twelve months of cancelled plans and music industry flux, and 2020’s not quite gone as hoped. Obviously. However, on the evidence of their debut EP, ‘Toner’, their future looks as promising as can be expected after such a period of uncertainty.

It starts a little slowly, with lead single ‘Talks’. It’s a serviceable bit of dance-rock, whose central groove pounds along efficiently enough, but it lacks a certain spark; if placed in the middle of the kind of DJ set PVA’s live shows so often resemble, it’d certainly keep the room going, but you wouldn’t blame anyone for taking the chance to pop out for a smoke.

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Happily, ‘Sleek Form’ more than makes up for its relatively lightweight predecessor: stalking along in the wake of a gloriously antagonistic bassline, it’s crying out for a sticky, pitch-black room, the air thick with dry ice and intrigue. Ella Harris’ aloof vocal floats through the murk here and there, an intermittent guide through the darkness as the track prowls from one section to the next.

Best of all, though, is ‘Exhaust/Surroundings’, the final PVA-only cut here before the tracklisting gives way to a host of remixes. A skeletal guitar line and spotlight-grabbing melody from Harris are torn apart by thunderous drums and piled-up synths, before the whole thing descends into a brutal cocktail of French-style tech-house, Joy Division doom, and OMD-esque grandiosity. It’s a shade away from going full Muse and thus insufferably naff, but they skip along that particular tightrope with remarkable grace.

The clutch of remixes that form the EP’s second half offer no surprises – the Mura Masa and Lynks reworks of ‘Talks’ are good fun – but they’re hardly afterthoughts, as can sometimes be the case with such tracklist-boosters so early in an act’s career. The Girl Band/Daniel Fox remix of ‘Exhaust/Surroundings’ is the pick of the bunch, a meaty, tooled-up companion to the original that veers directly into the no-prisoners territory of Gesaffelstein or Boy Harsher.

There’s nothing groundbreaking here – electro-rock of this kind has been done before, and done well – but there’s an admirable clarity of purpose to ‘Toner’ that suggests PVA are only just beginning to flex their creative muscles. When we can finally see them in full flow again, preferably somewhere loud and sweaty, it’ll be a moment to cherish.

Details

  • Release date: November 20
  • Record label: Big Dada
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