Freaks R Us
he old critical chestnut of how long a song literally is and how long it feels is thrown out the window by Johannes Heil’s newest album Freaks R Us. It doesn’t seem to be any sort of statement either: each of the ten tracks that hover carefully between 7:00 and 7:05 sound neither constrained nor labored, as though this is the perfect length of time to balance progression and groove. Of course Heil’s classic “Paranoid Dancer” clocked in at a healthy nine minutes, so maybe this is all just coincidence.
But when listening to tracks like “Warrior of Light,” “Artology,” or “Rescue Me,” you also have to wonder if he isn’t on to something after all. Each track takes a different road to its conclusion, but always ends up in the same place. “Warrior” fits three different songs into one, melding fart bass house with big-room trance-house and then smoothing off the edges with a concluding splash of disorienting synthetic shuffle. “Artology,” on the other hand, is single-minded in its purpose, which seems to be soundtracking perfectly a clean run-through of Toad’s Turnpike. “Rescue Me” is the burner with a heart, layering cloudy melodies and a vocoder repeating the titular phrase. It’s the type of track that’s a perfect closer to a hard-edged mix.
It doesn’t end the proceedings here, though. In fact, it serves more as respite from the non-stop beat barrage of the five tracks that precede it. “The Magician” and “The Fool” (get it?) follow in its wake, rehashing themes perfected previously on Freaks. The end of the album is composed of two outliers: “Last” and “The 1st” (get it?). Both trade brutality for delicacy and both are enviable highlights. “Last” is classic-era Orbital, an update of “Belfast”—the oscillating melody and its harmony acting as strands of DNA, forever circling one another, never touching, but always complementing around the feathery beat. “The 1st” leaves the beat behind altogether. Instead we have Barber strings swelling to and fro, with a theme popping up through the froth, voiced by the requisite angelic choir. You’d hate it, if it hadn’t come on the heels of 56 minutes of menacing house music. Instead, you’re more apt to bathe, soaking it all in and letting it wash over you without comment.
So what’s the problem? Like Elvis Costello, you get the sense over the course Freaks R Us that Johannes Heil is good. Very good, in fact. Too good. The sort of perfection attained here isn’t the accidental, “it just came out of me” variety. Instead, it’s that worked over, “this guy is a genius of a sort, and I know he knows it” kind of thing. Accidents just don’t happen here. And it’s accidents that enchant. You come away from Freaks R Us feeling like you’ve just been taught something. Sure, maybe it’s how to create a perfect-sounding seven-minute techno track. But sometimes ten lessons is more than enough.