Cologne based techno label Kompakt released two critically praised albums earlier this year—Gui Boratto’s Chromophobia and The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime. Each engages from start to finish and coheres in a way that is not particularly common to full-length artist-albums in the world of electronic dance music. Both records have also achieved a good deal of crossover success, capitalizing on the current enthusiasm of hip-minded music aficionados for the latest dance sounds. The embrace of Justice, Digitalism and Simian Mobile Disco is easily explained by the hybrid sound of these groups. With one foot in the world of abrasive dance music and one in the world of edgy and pop, they appeal to both the discreet poppist sensibility and the body’s demand for movement. The attraction of Boratto and The Field is different, subtler.
Both certainly have pop leanings, as do many acts on Kompakt, a label that is known for suffusing its minimalism with harmony. The Field has remixed Annie, Maps and Dntel’s alter ego James Figurine. (Jimmy Tamborello wears his affection for Kompakt and Ellen Allien’s Bpitch Control label squarely on his sleeve.) Boratto has a penchant for including new-wavey guitar lines in his work, and crafted what is probably the year’s most ecstatic track, the underground pop—the term used loosely to accommodate eight and a half minute songs—hit, “Beautiful Life.” It is something of an analogue to his “Like You,” released a year earlier on the Kompakt Pop imprint. While the methods of the two artists vary, the majority of the music that both make is cerebral, spectral and chromatic dance music.
Their work is proving particularly accessible at the moment and it is doing so by mining a vein that Michael Mayer (one of Kompakt’s founders) and Superpitcher (Aksel Schaufler) have had a large hand in carving out. Superpitcher’s remix of The MFA’s “The Difference it Makes” is the kind of track that makes an outsider to the techno scene, someone who has never expressed any interest in it to himself or anyone else, rethink his position. First, he asks someone what it is. Then he thinks to himself, “This is techno…I don’t like techno…but I like this.” And then, the realization: it doesn’t matter what it is because above all it is sublime.
As Supermayer, the duo of Schaufler and Mayer released a euphoric remix of Boratto’s “Like You,” in 2006, which elicits a similar reaction. They have also remixed Gabriel Ananda and Geiger; the latter returned the favor by providing the B-side mix for the first single from Save the World, “Two of Us,” a raging cyclone of a track with a pummeling beat from beginning to end. The only break in the track makes way for a quirky and slightly ominous glockenspiel to come into the mix. (Such idiosyncratic percussion, and instrumentation in general, proves to be characteristic of Superpitcher and Mayer’s work together.) From that point it builds in intensity, reverb and distortion clinging to a rising synth-pulse. Put simply, it rocks. Convulsively.
All of this to say, expectations for Save the World, despite slight misgivings about the superhero themed title and artwork, were high. It turns out, Save the World is most marked by its eclecticism—stark minimal (“Saturndays”) beside funky electro-pop (“The Art of Letting Go”); the strange and dreamy indie-pop saga, “The Lonesome King,” mixed in among the bouncy, tripped-out “Us and Them” and the long, loungey album closer, “Cocktails for Two.” The initial response is slight confusion and surprise. The expected elements of pop and techno abide, but they have been arranged, for the most part into heady, meandering genre-benders, suitable for tripping away an hour or so.
The tracks are great up to a point, but they seem to stall at a point. Like an airplane on a splice of film, returned to its run-up each time it is about to leave the ground. This works in some cases, especially on “Please Sunrise,” which as its title suggests, is pure anticipation. And anticipation is its aim, not because it presages something to come, but as something worthwhile in itself. As a journey is to a destination. It builds and builds and when it gets to where it’s going slides into a pleasurable, ruminative giddiness. The album works as a spacey, chilled concoction of long, open-aired tracks. When it attempts to push out of this mode, it gets a little stiff. “Two of Us” is the exception, its rigidity is a condition of its combustibility. “Saturndays” starts of sounding downright sinister and is claustrophobic throughout. There is nothing wrong with it—as a dour, minimally sketched template of danceable paranoia—but the best of Superpitcher and Mayer’s solo work is notable for its warmth and for its conjuring of rapturous states.
The album fails to satisfy by failing to go beyond pleasantness to transcendence. That is a tall order, certainly, but one that feels justified by the stature of the two men behind Save the World. But while it doesn’t provide a view of the two producers at their pinnacle, the juxtaposition of different sounds and genres—their disregard for genres, really—leaves one impressed by their ability to slip tastefully in and out of different styles and musical personas.
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