Saturday, September 3, 2011

In search of form: Kompakt and Mojuba

Two labels that have been looking for some sort of return to form of late are Berlin’s Mojuba and Cologne’s Kompakt.

Kompakt’s troubles have been slow to manifest since the label has been home to some of the better electronic albums of the last few years: Superpitcher's “Kilimanjaro”, Thomas Fehlmann’s “Gute Luft”, The Field’s “Yesterday and Today”. The loss in form has also been difficult to pinpoint due to the label’s scope. But these two facets perhaps also highlight where the problems have been. In chasing the more indie-orientated sounds of Walls, Rainbow Arabia and WhoMadeWho, the label’s dancefloor side has largely remained stuck in the confines of Kompakt’s signature sound, mercurial and slow, and built comfortably close to the indie-electronic divide so as not to alienate the vacillating crowd. Alternatively, whereas the albums have generally been praised, they have also deflected criticism away from the less strong showing of the label’s singles and lack of club direction. There are still too many novelty tracks coming out of the label, like Matias Aguayo’s “I don’t smoke” for example, even Wolfgang Voight’s “Kafkatrax” to a point, which feel like an in-jokes that, when out on the floor, don’t always make you feel like dancing or laughing.

The barometer of Kompakt’s success has always been the annual Pop Ambient and, even more so, the Total series. Both had slowly been heading for stagnancy before "Pop Ambient 2009" looked to inject some interest by opening the door to new names such as multi instrumentalist Marsen Jules, Sylvain Chauveau and, in 2010, Brock van Wey aka Bvdub, who has now become a welcome staple there. The fall of the Total series has been more disasterous, with last years "Total 11" being one of the labels lowest points. One of the included tracks was Superpitcher’s “Lap dance” another novelty in-joke track that epitomised what was going wrong.

Perhaps as a direct response to this, this year’s edition "Total 12" stripped the collection back to its original two vinyl and one CD size with stronger results. While not all tracks are mind blowing, an acceptable premise for a compilation, there isn’t much here that feels like filler. The labels indie and electronic sides get a decent showing and some of the tracks almost feel like it could be the days of old, especially Wolfgang Voigt’s tender “Frieden” and Michael Mayer’s daring “That’s what I told Sanchez”. But Mathias Aguayo’s “I don’t smoke” is still there for those who still need the humour.

One of the most important artists of the Kompakt canon is The Field aka Axel Willner who is just about to release his third album “A looping state of mind” with similar artwork and largely similar palette to his former two albums. The lack of an extensive step in a new direction for Willner is frustrating for Field fans and the label looking for regeneration, but nonetheless, it is a solid release and maintains Kompakt's strength in albums. Plenty of jagged, skipping loops, washes of drone and most prominently on this album, even more emphasis on the pop form of the tracks, which is no mean feat for their extended duration.

Gui Boratto’s imminent album “III” is also another healthy sign from Kompakt. Gutsy, catchy and rugged at times, although overall slippery and dizzying, it has all of the Brazilians trade mark qualities. As with the excellent “Chromophobia”, tracks segue together well and the blend of post punk and dance floor is kept in healthy balance to reward the club and home stereo. Sadly “The Drill” is the lead single and not necessarily one of the better tracks, but, ironically, one of the more Kompakt sounding tracks from the album.

Another label to disappoint of late has been Mojuba. After an impeccable and ground breaking run of 12”s from 2005 the label started to come undone with the release of Ken Sumitani aka Stereociti’s “Early light” ep in 2009. The opening track “Untitled” was a decent enough smoky lounge house hit, but wounded the more avante garde philosophy of the label with its rather mundane vocal “What is house music?” diatribe partly lifted from Eddie Amadour’s “House music”

“Not everyone understands house music
It's a spiritual thing
It's a body thing
It's a soul thing.
House music is not yours
House music is not for sale
Please just get out of here now”

Or the legendary Chuck Roberts sermon from 1987

As if sensing the problem, Mojuba later re-released “Untitled” as “Cosmoride” slowed down and without the infringing vocal sample, but hardly a statement of confidence.

The scattering of releases around the two Stereociti singles also failed to improve the labels stock. The legendary Oracy received faint praise for “Bass mood”, but in the end there was a certain clumsiness to the sound, viscous heavy bass, gloopy acid, slowed mumbling vocals and incongruous jazzy snare hits were hardly the stuff of the future. Nick Solé kept things consitent with two solid releases, whereas the normally bankable Sven Weissemann hit a purple patch with a same-old sounding ep that failed to move on from his seductive deep house sound. Indeed, Weissemann’s piano-driven album “Xine” for the label was endearing, but somehow fractured and unrepairable. While it was Sterociti who inadvertently ushered in the dark times, it seemed that his recent “Kawasaki” album might have pulled them out, but not quite. A promising, atmospheric beginning did not however, come to an overwhelmingly satisfying climax, despite a handful of decent tracks, and like Kompakt, Mojuba waits for another key stone release to turn the corner again.

The track “Klass” on the “Kawasaki” album is one of the standouts for its dubby vibe alongside the moody “Expanses”.

An interesting feature of “Klass” is its inclusion of a sample by Count Ossie & Mystic Revelation of Rastafari from the 1973 album “Grounation” similar to this poem (no audio available for The Wee Hours).

The sample was also used by Scott Monteith aka Deadbeat on his single “Vampire” for Echocord last year, which cleverly pulled out the references to dawn as if spoken by a vampire, but at the expense of the important political sentiment

“The light became morning,
The morning became day - speaking for myself
I wish the darkness had stayed”

“Vampire” was also remodelled into “Third Quarter (Vampire of Mumbai)” from the recent “Drawn and Quartered” album, while Monteith’s previous album “Roots and wire” also contained a track called “Grounation (Berghain drum jack)” in honor of Count Ossie’s album.

Frank Sinatra also has a similarly titled, but totally unrelated track, from what is considered one of the first concept albums.

No comments:

Post a Comment