DJ Koze is a genre artist—house and techno, specifically—whose range of influences stretches well outside those genres. He’s less a populist than an explorer; the 13 tracks on his 2013 album Amygdala, which was then his first new album in eight years, revealed the aesthetics of a crate-digger and collagist more than that of a scene stalwart. Any good producer worth their salt has to be, but where an artist like The Field will take a sample from a source as familiar as Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and render it unrecognizable, recoding popular music back into something hypnotic yet alien, Koze uses those elements to splash his creations with vivid colors and warm, hook-filled melodies. His music doesn’t belong in dark smoky clubs, or even a swanky lounge like Todd Terje’s might, but outside, under the vivid color bars of a sunset.
There’s a lot of life, and more importantly a lot of joy in what DJ Koze does, but the ambition behind his LSD-induced vision is such that it can take some time to craft. Following the eight-year gap leading up to Amygdala, Knock Knock arrives after another five years, though the gap’s been bridged with DJ mixes, remix compilations and the odd single. None of which could convey the scope of something like Knock Knock, a 16-track, 78-minute collection that eclipses all of the German producer’s past projects in scope and expanse. There’s a lot of music on Knock Knock, and likewise a wide palette of sounds to soak in, his house and techno anthems intertwined with R&B, hip-hop, funk, ambient and dream-pop. Such is par for the course for a particularly out-there DJ mix, but each of the tracks here are interconnected, of a piece with one another.
In some respects, Knock Knock does feel like a DJ mix, in that Koze keeps a consistently flowing set of music throughout its nearly 80 minutes. There are pauses, and he deviates from any one central BPM setting, but what a lot of the songs share in mood, they differ in approach. The deep, peculiar funk thumps of “Bonfire” underscore a subtle Bon Iver sample, while “Moving In a Liquid” feels like the rare moment of more traditional techno, albeit with some robotic vocals from Eddie Fummler. “Pick Up” opts for a funky disco break in the service of an anthemic, body-moving house track, and “Planet Hase” juxtaposes a deep, percussive thump with heady, psychedelic elements.
DJ Koze frequently finds himself in good company—even if he releases records somewhat infrequently—and his cast of collaborators on Knock Knock is a solid list of entirely fitting, if unexpected all-stars. Yet Koze doesn’t shoehorn them into ill-fitting arrangements, rather using the strengths his vocal guests instead of fighting against them. Swedish indie-folkster José Gonzalez lends his vocals to a particularly dreamy highlight in the warbly crackle of “Music On My Teeth,” whereas “Muddy Funster” features an even more surprising appearance by Kurt Wagner, whose Vocodered croon—much like the one heard on their last album FLOTUS—feels entirely in character on the gorgeous lullaby. Róisín Murphy appears twice, commanding the first single “Illumination” with an alternately ethereal and soulful delivery, taking it a few shades smokier with “Scratch That.” Though the name likely to turn most heads is that of Arrested Development emcee Speech, who blesses the smooth funk of “Colours of Autumn” with his earnest, soothing presence.
Knock Knock is, admittedly, all over the place. But that’s always been Koze’s M.O.—he’s not the sort of producer to get too comfortable in any one place, or set himself up for any easy expectations or predictions. He’ll put chamber pop vocalists together in the same space as early ’90s conscious rap emcees and bridge the gap with Quiet Storm samples. It’s a surreal, psychedelic world he creates, and he takes his time to see it to fruition. Observed as a whole, however, it’s a landscape like no other.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.