Switched On: John Tejada – Year Of The Living Dead (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Year Of The Living Dead would seem to be a direct statement on the extended time we have had to spend in lockdown, but for John Tejada it appears to be bearing the fruits of his musical endeavours in that period. For the eight tracks making up his fifth album in a decade on the Kompakt label, Tejada broadened his scope to use unfamiliar electronic instruments, the result being an eight track body of work operating with the reassuring freedom he has always employed.

What’s the music like?

A mixture of comforting keyboard pads and edgy beat workouts. Tejada has always had his own distinct approach, and here we get the familiar parts of his sound – warm chords, intricate rhythms, offbeat loops and rhythmic cells – dressed up with less familiar musical explorations, taking in dub and more direct electro.

Tejada always exhibits consummate control over his music but this never stifles its emotional impact. Darker thoughts are afoot in the steely edged Abbot Of Burton, which puts its foot down after the suntrap that is Spectral Progressions. Meanwhile the opening trio of the album, The Haunting Of Earth, Sheltered and Eidolon, are a familiar presence with their intricate clicks and rhythmic cells.

Does it all work?

Yes. With an open ear and an attention to detail, Tejada never hits a dud – which is something we can reliably say about pretty much all of his considerable output.

Is it recommended?

Yes. A new John Tejada album is always a welcome arrival, and it’s great to see his reluctance to fall back on his laurels and produce replicas of previous albums. His music continues its organic process and repeated hearings reveal just how much there is going on in each track. Recommended for devotees, of which there are many, but also for new visitors.

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Switched On – WhoMadeWho: Synchronicity (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Copenhagen trio WhoMadeWho are an established and much-loved force in electronic music, bringing together their various backgrounds of rock, jazz and dance to a project that is always interesting to chart and invigorating to listen to.

Synchronicity suggests more of a jazz influence, and indeed it is there in the idea that each track should be a collaboration with one of the many artists they have rubbed shoulders with along the way. It is their first album for Kompakt in eight years, and includes staples of the label Michael Mayer and Robag Wruhme, part of a guest list also including Axel Boman and Frank Wiedemann.

What’s the music like?

Although it is a set of collaborations, Synchronicity is carefully planned and structured, making a coherent album that works really well from start to finish. Like a DJ set it has a measured beginning, working through Frank Wiedemann’s collaboration Dream Hoarding to hit the groove with Sainte Vie in Hibernation.

There are some really excellent tracks here, from the moody and atmospheric Oblivion, with Mano Le Tough, to the strutting groove of Hamstring with Michael Mayer and the broken beat of Peter Pan Me, another Wiedemann co-write. The slinky undercarriage of Twenty Tears, with Rebolledo, is notable, as is the slightly dubby Anywhere In The World, a shimmering delight in the company of Axel Boman. To illustrate the variety on the album, the preceding Shadow Of Doubt, with Adana Twins, has a lovely open air twang to its guitar, while the scoring for the strings in Cecil – with Echonomist – is sublime.

Does it all work?

Yes. WhoMadeWho work economically, so their percussion is never crowded but still hits the right mark – and their vocals are on point too. Synchronicity could easily lose its emotive punch given the number of people involved, but that doesn’t happen at any point.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The Copenhagen trio are still not as well known as they should be, despite the love they get in electronic music circles, and this release really should propel them onto the playlists of anyone looking for something switched on and new. A really excellent album.

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You can listen to clips of Synchronicity and purchase on LP, CD or download at the Kompakt website

Switched On – Various Artists: Pop Ambient 2021 (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Pop Ambient has always been one of Kompakt’s flagship projects, but in 2021 it is surely needed more than ever. With no reason to change the winning formula of seasoned regulars and bright new things, the series – in Kompakt’s words – becomes ‘a sprightly young adult waltzing out of its teenage joys and tears’.

What’s the music like?

It is no understatement to say this really is balm to soothe the soul. From the moment new Kompakt signings Blank Gloss begin the music takes its listener to a special and very relaxed place, the Sacramento group letting their guitar run free through On A Vessel.

Then Yui Onodera pans out with Chromo 5, with similarly warm textures that seem to hang on a gentle breeze. Reich & Würden‘s Lens proves to be rather special, with a slightly mournful trumpet lead that hints of a detective or intelligence series theme. Joachim Spieth & Pepo Galán‘s Libration proves to be one of those wonderfully immersive ambient tracks, holding still on one pitch but moving subtly above it. Max Würden‘s Center does the same, with a simple but probing piano line, while Neozaïre‘s Vor Den Toren Europas resembles the sound of an orchestra playing slowly outdoors.

Neozaïre is one of three new Kompakt artists on this release, along with Blank Gloss and Seventh World, whose Light The Waves Before Dawn is a beautifully stretched mood piece suggestive of the lazily moving waters themselves.

Does it all work?

Effortlessly so. The great thing about Pop Ambient is that it works so well but never rests on its laurels, giving new pointers in ambient music with each installment.

Is it recommended?

You know the answer. As a standpoint in the ambient music calendar, Pop Ambient is eagerly awaited and delivers with as little effort as possible. As, indeed, ambient music should.

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Switched On – Various Artists: Total 20 (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Twenty years undefeated, Kompakt‘s annual round-up is a valuable line in the sand for lovers of their brand of quality electronic music and techno. It comes with a defiant message in what has been a difficult summer for dance music. ‘Music is our oxygen. We’ll dance together soon’.

What’s the music like?

Why change a winning formula? There are 23 tracks here from the Kompakt stable, bringing together established and new artists, adding a slew of exclusives and unreleased tracks, but still standing strong as a statement of what the Cologne label do best.

Style-wise there is something for everyone here, from the slower jam of Silicone‘s remix of Weval‘s Doesn’t Do Anything to the driving, sharp-edged textures of Marc Romboy‘s Stalker. Most of the cuts are instrumental but there are a couple of notable exceptions. Kiwi‘s Hello Echo is a nice disco-house cut in the spirit of The Juan MacLean, Bestley providing the excellent vocals, while Kölsch‘s urgent Remind You strikes a more paranoid tone.

Label head Michael Mayer contributes the nocturnal Agita, while Jonathan Kaspar‘s Licht is a really good combination of warm textures and bleeps. Jörg Burger‘s Surprise Yourself! is a classy affair, with rippling synth lines, while the rolling contours of Lose Control by David Douglas also impress. Best of all though is a rich piece of techno from Steve Moore, his soundtrack setting credentials coming to the fore in the superb Frame Dragging, a really good blend of urgency and warmth.

All this takes place alongside fine contributions from label staples Robag Wruhme, Jürgen Paape, Sascha Funke and Voigt & Voigt – not to mention strong stuff from Yotam Avni and the lively Blush from Christian Nielsen.

Does it all work?

Yes. This sort of compilation series might seem like a dying breed but Kompakt’s Total series works so well because of its variety, quality and new content, satisfying fans and newcomers alike.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. It is to be hoped the annual late summer appearance of the Total compilation will continue well beyond its twentieth year, for its regular slot in the calendar guarantees a new clutch of excellent electronic music. Listeners to the previous 19 will not be disappointed!

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Switched on – Yotam Avni: Was Here (Kompakt)

What’s the story?

For his debut album, Tel Aviv producer Yotam Avni is looking to combine two of his deep musical loves – Detroit techno and the sort of jazz you might hear on the ECM label. With that in mind, Kompakt is his ideal label home, and the Cologne label have been encouraging his solo output through a succession of well-received tracks and remixes. Avni is honing his sound, bringing it back to the elements – and Was Here, his first album after almost a decade of recording, is a clear statement of his musical identity.

What’s the music like?

The priority here is the rhythm, which Avni often sets out at the start of the track – but melody and texture come through as each piece develops to assume equal importance. There are some sultry atmospheres here, especially when the jazzier elements are introduced. The muted trumpet of It Was What It Was works very well, as does Free Darius Now.

A sparing use of vocals is also effective, meaning the guest appearances of Georg Levin (Island Hopper) and dOP (with trumpeter Greg Paulus on Just Another Day) really stand out. So too does Vortex, a really fine track that grows into its main feature, a hypnotic chant, creating a smoky atmosphere.

Does it all work?

Yes. This is classy deep techno but with a hot-weather twist, very atmospheric and with a few really nice elements worked in from other musical forms. Avni gets his rhythm tracks on the deep side and they provide a solid foundation on which he can always build.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Another good find for Kompakt! Highly recommended.

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