Switched On – Various Artists: Total 21 (Kompakt)

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reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Kompakt’s annual compilation series rolls on, but on hitting the coming of age number the Cologne label have decided to put it on a diet. Slimmed down to a single disc / four sides of vinyl, it is a leaner beast but still packs in 13 tracks that cast the net across the label’s output.

Seasoned Kompakt regulars such as John Tejada, Jürgen Paape, Voigt & Voigt, Gui Boratto and label founder Michael Mayer rub shoulders with new talent to these pages – Kollmorgen, The Bionaut and Nicky Elisabeth.

What’s the music like?

Kompakt’s approach to techno is always pleasingly varied, and this set of tracks spreads itself nicely across the tempo and emotional spectrum. It doesn’t take long for us to be transported to warmer climes in the company of Jürgen Paape, whose La Guitarra Romantica is dreamy and exotic. The same words could apply to Roman Flügel’s remix of Nicky Elisabeth’s Celeste, though in truth this is a magical piece of work, beautifully floated above the deep beats.

“I Am A Dancer!”, proclaims the track from Marc Romboy & C.A.R. of the same name, an assertive piece of work shaking its booty from the off, while Jonathan Kaspar’s Von Draussen also hits the tougher spot with its rolling drum track. John Tejada contributes some typically thoughtful and nicely woven techno on Spectral Progressions, while Voigt & Voigt do similar with darker shades on Nicht Mein Job.

Michael Mayer’s contribution Happy plays around with spatial effects rather well, as does Sascha Funke’s Fasson, working in a nice broken beat and airy synths for good measure.

Does it all work?

It does. The decision to slim down to a CD’s worth of tracks pays off – not that the previous Total series instalments were overlong – but it works well because it brings the focus in to some really good compositions. The Kompakt catalogue is still in good shape, it would seem!

Is it recommended?

It is indeed. One for the seasoned Kompakt fans, but also an effective introduction to the label if you’re late to their recent output.

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Switched On: Raxon: Sound Of Mind (Kompakt)

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reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The music of Ahmed Raxon has been a familiar feature on house and techno dancefloors for at least five years now, and he has previous with Kompakt as part of their Speicher series in 2019. The Egyptian DJ, now based in Barcelona, has label-hopped with a number of successful releases, but now turns to the longer playing format with his debut album.

What’s the music like?

Raxon’s versatility makes him the ideal producer for an electronic album. Sound Of Mind has plenty of variety, moving between slow and fast tempos, four to the floor and broken beat, but always with a surety of hand. The range of speeds and beats is impressively mastered, assembled in an order that makes the album more like a DJ set.

Raxon has a healthy penchant for music of the recent past, too, which helps him pull a couple of surprises out of the hat. Almost Human is one of these, a curveball with widescreen riffing and breaks that look more in the direction of Brighton than Barcelona. Flyby is an appealing slower jam with rich keyboards, while the sharp edges of El Multiverse are part of a really strong floor filler. Phantom Report has darkly coloured, solid beats – an examples of Raxon’s techno with depth – while Vice puts its bruising break beat to good use.

Does it all work?

It does. Raxon’s previous endeavours for a wide variety of labels helps enormously, as does his sense of structure – there are no fillers here, and a strong set of grooves in the locker.

Is it recommended?

Yes. An excellent debut long player from a producer whose versatility and confidence stand him good stead, Sound Of Mind is an album that avoids cliche and presents freshly made grooves with some style.

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Switched On: Blank Gloss: Melt (Kompakt)

blank-gloss

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Sacramento duo Blank Gloss met through a shared love of punk and experimental music, but their output is the polar opposite – a blissful musical ambience which has drawn the attention of Kompakt. Their track Of A Vessel was used on the Cologne label’s Pop Ambient 2021 compilation, and it features towards the end of Melt, their debut album.

What’s the music like?

Weightless and blissful, but also subtly animated. At no point does Melt feel like musical wallpaper – instead, it takes the listener outside and places them under the stars of the night sky. It is easy to imagine a wide open vista with the music they make, the scene immediately set from the first track Those Who PlantOf A Vessel makes the same understated and soothing impression as it did first time around, but sounds even better in this context.

There are some nice guitar fragments on Virga, and on Speaking Quietly too, where a dialogue emerges between soft piano and a thoughtful line on steel guitar. Almost Home shimmers in the half light, before Stained Glass reaches the album’s restful destination.

Does it all work?

Yes. If you liked Of A Vessel then you will certainly enjoy Melt, with its very gradual and enjoyable twists and turns. Blank Gloss never restrict themselves to one formula or musical language, and the subtle inventiveness at work here keeps the music in the foreground.

Is it recommended?

It is indeed. If you are in any way acquainted with the output of Kompakt’s ambient stable, you will be glad to know that Blank Gloss have seamlessly become a part of it. Melt is a soft-hued antidote to the pace and stress of modern life.

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Switched On – GusGus: Mobile Home (Oroom)

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reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Icelandic band GusGus are electronic music royalty, but although Mobile Home is their eleventh studio album, it is the first one for three years. In keeping with the band’s fluid personnel roster, they welcome fellow-Icelandic singer Margrét Rán, from Reykjavík band VÖK – and chart a quarter of a century making music as they do so.

This album has a concept – the mobile home in question is Earth, but it is a futuristic world run by machines, a concept not too difficult to grasp as the advance of technology hurtles ever onwards. The main protagonist is experiencing very strong feelings of disconnection with the world, sharpened by lengthy bouts of solitude and alienation – again, a concept we can all identify with in some way after the events of the last year and a half.

What’s the music like?

Moody, but typically concentrated. The challenge for GusGus is to portray the heightened feelings of their concept without losing sight of their club roots, especially given the fact that most nightclubs remain resolutely shut. For much of Mobile Home they succeed in their aim, as the familiar cool beats and unhurried keyboard lines teaming up to great effect.

Higher is terrific, a solid four to the floor beat backing Rán’s continued assertion that ‘I need to get higher’, with pulsing keyboards swirling around like dry ice. Simple Tuesday is cut from similar cloth and written in the same key – as is Our World. On both tracks the vulnerable lyrics are now at odds with the heady music, creating a powerful and unresolved tension which is heightened by the offbeat stress in the latter track, where Rán and Daníel Haraldsson duet effectively.

Does it all work?

It does, but with considerably more tension and with a less instinctive approach than previous albums Lies Are More Flexible, Mexico and Arabian Horse. This time the lyrical content and vocals do not feel quite as inspired, though they do realise the album’s concept very effectively. Much of the album is at the same pitch – G – which may be a tactic to portray the feelings of isolation, but the ‘tingle factor’ is less than on each of the three albums mentioned above. That said, there is still plenty to enjoy, the beats are sleek and the keyboard lines effortlessly cool.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Mobile Home might not carry as much of a punch as some previous GusGus releases but it still has plenty to commend it.

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You can listen to clips from Mobile Home and purchase via the Kompakt website

 

Switched On – Thomas Fehlmann – Böser Herbst (Kompakt)

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reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

In which Thomas Fehlmann goes back in time once more, drawing on late 1920s Berlin for inspiration – specifically a documentary made by Matthias Luthardt, Herbst 1929, Schatten Über Babylon. This work, as Fehlmann’s press release describes, offers historical insight to the third season of the television series Babylon Berlin.

What it also does is give Fehlmann ample opportunity to prove his versatility as an electronic music artist, and he flexes his creative muscles by using archive sounds from the late 1920s. These fit snugly with his own loops, moods and structures.

What’s the music like?

Intensely calming. On headphones the full perspective of Fehlmann’s working is revealed, while even on a primitive sound system his exquisite harmonic shading goes a long way. Often the ideas are very simple, using the briefest of melodic loops or becoming preoccupied with a single chord or micro-progression.

These are spun into a substantial whole, so that on tracks such as VulkanKarnickel or Umarmt the listener is immersed in a warm bath of ambience. This is both soothing and stimulating, for while Böser Herbst could be used as a relaxation aid it is also a source of positive energy, the elements swirling into a meaningful whole.

Occasionally Fehlmann flexes his muscles a little more, hinting at the psychedelia of The Orb when the workings become mechanised. This happens on Abgestellt and Auf Die Spitze, but serves to heighten the ambient cloak elsewhere.

Does it all work?

Yes, providing you have the right listening environment. A quiet room or a headphone session at either end of the day will set the mood perfectly so that Fehlmann’s workings can be fully appreciated.

Time will often appear to stand still, especially when the likes of Mit Ausblick or .
Überschneidungen are casting spells with their consonant harmonies and thick, woolly ambience, but this has always been part of Fehlmann’s charm, and is precisely why he remains a master of ambient electronic music.

Is it recommended?

It is, for all the reasons outlined above – and because in these stressful times, Böser Herbst offers an all-too rare opportunity for escapism. Put simply, it’s good for the head!

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