(Well I don’t actually know if you missed them, for all I know you’ve been bumping Lee Gamble in your jeep at all the cookouts I just don’t get invited to.)
I did not know that James Hoff was 1) a “conceptual artist” – scare quotes very much intentional – or 2) that this album was made by infecting an 808 with a computer virus or something. It’s kind of a miracle then that the results are listenable in their own right, at least by my definition of listenable. I’m sure my neighbours wouldn’t agree. But that’s what you get for living next to a guy who enjoys fiery blasts of digital distortion seemingly spat out at random. Blaster is oddly musical in that way only noisy stuff can be – it gets your back up with the obvious affrontery of the genre, but then your brain starts looking for the stuff around the edges of the noise, around the relationship with the other musical elements, and you find yourself settling in for something like a pleasurable experience. I say bring it on.
I vividly remember the moment when I fell in love with Kompakt’s Total series. I guess I had read about it somewhere, and I made one of my awkward visits to a specialist DJ shop where the guy behind the counter looks at me flicking through the two racks of albums and not looking at the singles on the wall, and wondering what the hell I was doing there. This one was in a basement near Queen West and Spadina, and I recall checking out several tracks – gee buddy, I thought, how come your ‘new’ albums are out of the plastic and being handed over to n00bs like me to hopefully not scratch them with one of these turnable needle things I’ve heard of? – and being smitten enough to fork over an obscene import price that probably wasn’t even particularly marked up.
I still have that copy of Total 2, and digital copies of all the Totals since floating around various hard drives, and they are never, ever disappointing, which is frankly amazing. Kompakt has always escaped the boring-minimal-techno trap by embracing pop elements like vocals and layered melodies, and there are too many great examples in Total 14 to list. But extra credit has to go to striking cuts like Voigt & Voigt’s beat-pop workout “Tischlein Deck Dich,” Dawud’s slinky “Lydia” and The Modernist’s “Die Fette Gazelle and the Hidden Six Pack,” which is so perfectly paced it could be an Elmore Leonard novel.
You don’t see a lot of releases from the old guard — and I use the term advisedly — of instrumental beatsmiths these days, certainly not as much as in the earlier part of the decade. But it’s not just longevity that makes Mono/Poly such a key figure in what’s left of the scene. Golden Skies is as richly textured and inventive as records like these get, with layer upon layer of dreamy melodic material over beats that gently propel the tracks along. “Alpha & Omega” is a highlight, all arpeggiated synths drifting off into space over a beat that sounds like a ping pong ball stuck bouncing in a vending machine. (In space.) If the frigid string swells and warm pads in “Night Garden” don’t make the hairs on the back of your neck do a little dance, you may in fact be dead.
I feel like I get sent a lot of techno singles made up almost entirely of clanking noises, white noise, pink noise, brown noise and a fascist kick drum banging away for six minutes. It’s nice to hear a record – a full length, no less – that has all of those things, and a soul to boot. I can actually listen to KOCH all the way through without forgetting it was on, and feeling the urge to check the health of my refrigerator. It helps that Gamble plays the spare melodic elements off each other rhythmically in a way that sounds like a language that makes sense together, rather than someone just stacking drum machine patterns on top of each other until the track can take no more. (Can you tell I feel like whining about the state of techno?) Admittedly I could do without the purely ambient tracks, which lack Gamble’s deft rhythms to offset the slightly plain textures, but they make nice palate cleansers before the next slammin’ groove invades the ol’ ear canals.
Happiness Is Happening
OK this came out September 1 but who’s keeping track? It might have slipped by me anyways if i hadn’t listened past the odd first track, which feels like it was left off the end of a shoegaze album the mastering engineer was doing before opening the Happiness Is Happening folder on his desktop. But that’s more a testament to Roman Flügel’s range of material than a weakness, veering from the Kraftwerk-ish electro pop of “Friendship Song” to the Cybotron-like rising arpeggios and stadium-sized handclaps of “Parade” in the course of just a few tracks. Invention is the order of the day, and nowhere else is it in sharper relief than on “Stuffy,” whose chameleonic drum patterns and jittery synths hold onto a consistent mood while throwing the listener into a tumble-dryer of a track. It’s good fun from a stalwart figure who deserves more attention than he sometimes gets – being hard-to-pin-down isn’t a great marketing strategy but it certainly makes for a fun album.