he title of Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier’s second full-length goes deeper than dancing—Movements is like a symphony: progressing through several moods and genres. And unlike many of their contemporaries, Booka Shade is concerned with songwriting. At a time when software can nearly write itself, Walter and Arno serve as a reminder that no matter how self-automated the process may be, humans always provide the raw material.
That songwriting comes into play on two tracks re-released on Movements: the 2005 club classics “Body Language” and “Mandarine Girl.” “Body Language (Reinterpretation)” is a disappointment in both placement and composition. Putting it second on the album suggests a lack of confidence in newer material. And for the listener, it feels anachronistic to go from a brilliant new track, “Night Falls,” to last-summer’s-hit redux. As far as composition, this moody dub rework does little to illustrate what exactly was missing from the original that necessitated a second take. Conversely, “Mandarine Girl (Album Version)” is only slightly different that the original, shortened and with a few changes, but also feels out of place. If nothing else, putting two old tracks on a new record does little to convince someone that Movements should be listened to as an album.
Furthermore, both the dynamic schizophrenia of “The Birds and the Beats/At the Window,” moving from Fulton-esque acid bass to throwaway soundtrack piano meanderings, and the brooding synths over Egyptian Lover beats on “Take a Ride” do little to excite. Perhaps the least interesting moment on the album comes with the vaguely political title of “Hallelujah USA,” a trip-hop interlude with live bass near the album’s end.
At their best, though—when they celebrate the possibility of synchronicity between mood and movement—Booka Shade make it clear that they are the robotic, electrohouse inheritors of the Depeche Mode legacy. In fact, Dave Gahan may want to thank his lucky stars that his song-writing bandmate didn’t just use a vocoder and start Get Physical without him twenty years ago. With the exception of those listed above, every track on this record is fantastic (which makes them nine for fourteen—not a bad batting average).
With a characteristically reverb-laden mid-tempo soft bass pad, Booka Shade begin the album with “Night Falls.” Amidst some dark acid and fluttering melodies, the duo energetically flashes their debt to rave icons, by dropping retro vocal samples that might as well say, “Ecstasy,” but in a way that tastefully avoids cliché. It’s a tour de force, with the Shades continually plugging in new pieces, adding and subtracting in a way that showcases the movements within the track. “Darko,” though, is perhaps the best and smartest song on the album, and the one that most clearly showcases the range of which these two artists are capable. A synthesizer swells up from the depths, through fizzles of white noise, and moves directly into a hard hitting track that’s pared down to the essential elements: bass, drums, and a hint of melody. Then the harmony hits. As is the case with their best songs, “Darko” proves that Booka Share are at their best when they restrain themselves from going straight to the climax, when they opt instead to toy with dynamics and build something altogether more satisfying.
Although “In White Rooms” has been garnering huge amounts of praise, and is indeed a fantastic song, listening to the entire album proves that the preceding track, “Wasting Time,” is just as essential. Although both pieces stand tall alone, when played in sequence there is an obvious symbiotic relationship between the slower, more progressive “Wasting Time” and the Balearic reworking of Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth” on “In White Rooms.”
For a second album, Movements is a phenomenal piece of work. Traversing a multitude of electronic genres (some more successful than others) over its length, Booka Shade have proven themselves two of the most versatile and talented producers working in German techno today.
Reviewed by: Cameron Octigan
Reviewed on: 2006-04-24