February 2, 2007

Various Artists - We Are Smallville

Smallville Records is a Hamburg thing, and grows in the same soil as Dial and Liebe Detail, presenting Hanseatic tech-house with brittle percussion, minimalist melodies, and grayscale moods. There’s a kind of sleight of hand involved in computer music—a neat nip/tuck that’s needed so the listener hears the various threads as a tightly braided whole, and not each stringy bit chafing against your brain. This is music, after all, which is meant to mesmerize. The first cut on this release, Steinhoff and Hammouda’s “Chestnut Way,” nearly gets there, but too little attention seems to have been paid to where the drums sit in the mix, and the track sounds too much like a conscious imitation of the style it seeks to become. If I were at the record store, it’d be the offer of the Sten (Lawrence) track that’d hook me, and sure enough, this one’s a beauty, driven by a dry, ding-donging cathedral bell synth line that works like a gothic rendition of a Larry Heard tune. If you heard “Faces” off the Sender compilation a few years back, you know what to expect—the compositional formula here is almost identical. DJ Swap’s “Blue,” with its blunt steel drum-sounding motif and metronomic drums, relies on slowly, sweetly doing your head in. It all sounds okay, but somewhere around the four-minute mark you get jarred, or bored, when you realize what you’re listening to is more like an arrangement of “cool sounds” than a track. Magda-cribbing collage mixers could easily take their favorite four bars from this and re:make it into something, but as it is, this one’s a chore.

Smallville Records / SMALLVILLE001
[Peter Chambers]

July 7, 2005

Ada - Blondix 2

Michael Mayer and Tobias Thomas have jointly created some of the most luminous moments in Kompakt’s history. Look no further than Smallville. They spread the love here over to the second edition of remixes from Ada’s Blondie album, making “Maps” what it should have been in the first place, an epic stormer of a techno track guided lightly by a music-box melody. Erlend Oye and band turn out on the B-side, playing what ends up being a rather stunning version of “Cool My Fire.” In a genre known for its production, Erlend does it exactly right in a rock context, giving the track an incredibly intimate feel (warts and all). Highly recommended.

Areal / Areal030
[Todd Burns]