n a year that’s seen high-profile house artists fail to rise up to the (unfair) expectations that surrounded their debut album, perhaps the best one comes from an unexpected place: the Get Physical label. But with the rise of electro-house alongside microhouse as one of the most fertile genres being examined right now, it shouldn’t be that surprising at all. It was just a question of who would be the one to craft a full-length document worth raving over. That one is Booka Shade’s Memento, which does everything that Michael Mayer and Superpitcher’s albums tried to do (keep an eye out for the dancefloor as well as indulge the auteur instinct that infects album builders) and does it better.
Take for instance “Vertigo” and “Memento”, the two previously released tracks that make their way to the album. Much like Mayer’s “Privat” and “Amabile”, they are hard to separate from their original placement on vinyl, but sound strong here nonetheless. And while both are, strictly speaking, electro-house, they have very important differences that make them much more interesting listens than what might be expected from the genre name. “Vertigo” uses a Metro Area-esque house beat cut through with velvety beds of keyboards and a honking melody. It’s restrained, coffee-table house, one that comes out of the speakers so perfectly that you can’t believe it hadn’t already been composed.
But the thing that elevates Memento above and beyond most dance albums is the fact that it has no problem with cutting down track times and inserting bridges between ideas. “Mr. Torrance”, “L’Armee des Ombres” and “16 mm” all fall below three minutes and serve as distinct mood-altering tracks, taking the listener from genre to genre more comfortably than would have been achieved otherwise. They also signal the fact that this is an album, not a 12” that is being presented here. There is time for small ideas to remain small, for experiments to find their place among fully composed dance-floor ready bangers.
And there are bangers. “Something Physical” could easily double as Get Physical’s theme song, merging arpeggiated synths and wandering chords to a hop-stepping 130 bpm jaunt. “Friend For a Night” is similarly constructed, with a more melancholy feel to its synth backing and techno leaning rhythm.
But perhaps more interesting and indicative of the proceedings are the two oddball masterpieces “On & On” and “Moonstruck”. The former sounds eerily like a fleshed out version of Cylob’s “Are We Not Men?”, while the latter closes the album with a guitar and moody vocoder leading the way, amid spaced out choruses and wavering synthetic strings.
And despite all of this variety, it all holds together beautifully. Which is more than can be said for nearly any of the full-lengths delivered by the major German dance labels this year. In fact, in a year littered with forays into album territory, by broadening their horizons and sounds beyond the limited tools of electro-house, Booka Shade may have just made the best album of the year in that genre.