In a scene where one of its most famous acts claimed that albums aren’t really important anymore, it doesn’t surprise us that mainstream dance records have a tendency to sound haphazard. They just don’t care about the craft – it’s all about the big singles. But that’s big picture dance music, you’d only need to look beyond the raves to find more substance in the frankly vacuous scene. Oddball Hamburg-based DJ Koze is the sort of veteran who is perplexed by the EDM explosion (“… it’s a big grotesque,” he says in reference to commercial festivals), which makes him exactly the kind of DJ-producer who would release a transcendental dance record.
Amygdala is his first release in 9 years, and he intends to make it matter – Koze had ambitiously made the claim that it was going to be his Sgt. Pepper moment before. While his statement was hyperbolic (an artiste’s ambition can be an annoying thing), we rather have that than a DJ who claims albums don’t matter. And what a release this is, even if it doesn’t reach Sgt. Pepper’s level of transcendence (it doesn’t), it’s still a great album. Amygdala rethinks techno as a psychedelic journey filled with jarring tunes only to later segue to more relaxing melodies, all anchored in emotional aural storytelling. Just as the bizarre cover suggests, it’s a bizarre ride of a techno album.
Koze has always been exploratory though. Before he got to this point of his career, he was a hip hop DJ in Fischmob and then a part of electro trio International Pony. As a solo act, his remixes have garnered him praises, and it was within this framework that he grounded himself to techno and house. Eclecticism had been part of his modus operandi and it shows on Amygdala, which makes techno accessible to those who normally wouldn’t give two sh!ts about it. As one clichéd music critic praise would go; it’s that one album you would pass to someone who would normally hate the genre.
Most of the time eschewing techno’s electronic precision and replacing it with organic instrumentation, the album introduces soft, dreamy organs (listen to ‘Royal Asscher Cut’) and lush vocal features from numerous guest artistes. Those familiar with Koze would find the latter especially startling, considering he is notoriously known for being anti-collaboration. Perhaps in finding likeminded people who similarly take electronic music and morph it into something else, he has finally found a reason to make guest features not only work, but gel perfectly with the rest of the album. Koze is an electronic auteur, he doesn’t just get Caribou’s Dan Snaith for the novelty of it – Dan doesn’t even begin singing till halfway through ‘Track ID Anyone’ – he invites him because he knew he would complete the overall plot of his craft.
In fact, the best songs off Amygdala are those with vocals. Matthew Dear’s contributions to the record are the most potent, particularly on ‘Magic Boy’. His digitally discordant voice is married to beautiful anodyne bass and soft keys, the texture of traditional dance is given new life in its coupling of organic instrumentation. Most of the album has this consistency, until you get to ‘Marilyn Whirlwind’ where the repetitive nature of techno rears its looping head. Even then, there’s something off about the song, something that’s too random to be the by-product of electronics’ algorithms.
The record is named after the part of our brain that controls anxiety, fear, and depression. Despite that, in crafting Amygdala, Koze has made a techno record that is less about the dread and desolation of grimy, artful techno (think Andy Stott), but one that is a digital tableau of joy, whimsy, and humour.
LISTEN TO: ‘Magical Boy’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Apparat
1. Track ID Anyone? (feat. Caribou)
2. Nices Wölkchen (feat. Apparat)
3. Royal Asscher Cut
4. Magical Boy (feat. Matthew Dear)
5. Das Wort (feat. Dirk Von Lowtzow)
6. Homesick (feat. Ada)
7. La Duquesa
8. Marilyn Whirlwind
9. My Plans (feat. Matthew Dear)
10. Don’t Lose My Mind
11. Amygdala (feat. Milosh)
12. Ich Schreib’ Dir Ein Buch 2013 (feat. Hildegard Knef)
13. NooOoo (feat. Tomerle & Maiko)