he Berlin dance scene is so fertile, so friendly, and, currently so much groovier than anywhere else’s, at least judging by press and releases. I haven’t had the time to actually go on a several month nightlife comparison by city lately. It must be partly due to the fact that so many young artists have moved there, or visit there, and actually record with anyone they bump into. Additionally, its residents get out of town and futher cross-pollinate other locales, like truly busy bees. !K7 is one of the better proponents of this product—their roster currently includes Tosca/Kruder & Dorfmeister, Out Hud and Swayzak. They also release at least some of Funkstorong and A Guy Called Gerald’s material, and host the DJ Kicks series.
Their latest full-length non-comp appears to be one of the more confident dance debuts in some time, but sounds too self-assured to be the work of a beginner. DJ Kaos, who also has quite a back catalogue under the moniker Ghost Cauldron, gets around as much as anyone—this album garners guest vocals from Erlend Ø ye and Can “Khan” Oral, a bass appearance from Matt Safer of The Rapture, unspecified collaboration from Captain Comatose, production work by Daniel Wang, and many, many more contributions, most of which include writing credit. If you follow any of those names back through recent soulfunkdisco oriented dance music, you realize there’s generally only one degree of separation, if that. I hope these beatmeisters are playing and recording safe! Even the album’s title, “Hello Stranger” is a perfect encapsulation of the ethos, with its alternate interpretations of “Long time, no see” and “Do you have the time?” in the French sense of “Let’s get it on!”
The album starts competently and prettily with “Lesson’s in Love”, Erlend’s contribution, giving the listener time to warm up, but not even hinting how genuinely soft and deep this little journey’s going to get. “Feel Like I Feel (Sing Along)”, though, picks things up beautifully, running alternately from electro to funky blue-eyed falsetto soul (courtesy Snax) through a little dub and some straight funk, even including a great cheesy keyboard stab at a very concise string part. Apparently, this is Matt Safer’s contribution, though the next song sounds more likely. Liner note error, or an artist being unpredictable? At over 8 minutes, it goes through so many modes and revisions of themes, you might want it to be still longer.
Then the bottom drops out on “Now and Forever.” A tres tasty bassline and cowbell usher in a wowser guitar riff smack between James Brown and Prince’s versions of classic funk rhythm. Slicker than the one, less so than the other. Before you’ve even taken it all in, the traps and hi-hats have locked right in, as well as a deeper, grittier guitar snarl. A dip in to some keyboard voo voo voop’s has the effect of a very early false ending ‘til the vocal catches your falling expectations: “I walk the wild side, I licked a gram (?), I’ve been to heaven, I’ve tasted sin, I have no mission, I have a plan: I want you in my bed again”. Awww, isn’t that sweet? It so carefully treads the line between obsessive and determined, or frightening stalker versus flattering. Whichever it is, this one is so seductive, you’d take the risk of being wrong. Or at least shake a leg, maybe two or three, if you weren’t concerned about it being addressed to yourself.
“I’ve got my reputation, I walk with resignation, on permanent vacation” sung to the tune of “I Got My Education” is a swell follow-up. Not as perfect, but it keeps the mood nearly as happy with its handclaps, a more Tom Tom’ish bass riff, and, yeah, duetting cowbells of different pitch. This time around the synth-strings are set to full-on swirling disco mode (until they go for the Gary Numan approach post-breakdown), along with the only drum fills on the album that sound triggered, rather than actually played. And that marimba solo nails it down pat.
Snax returns his always bemusing presence to “Town & Countryman” making a near par with the prior two tracks, but “Boogie Boy” brings it back up to determined pitch that may make you reconsider the proposition offered by “Now and Forever”. It’s closer to obsessive, and the only track that makes you alternately pogo, windmill, and look over your shoulder, rather than considering just how much you should be hip-thrusting.
“Juices” reduces the tone from sexually avaricious to merely salacious; it’s an apt follow-up, but it does signal the albums banging turning into whimpering, beginning of the slide downhill. “Bang the Box” picks the tempo back up, but is a bit generic technofunk which doesn’t quite merit 7 minutes, even if the Detroit and Kraftwerk references are fun. It all disculminates with “Bunny Brown”. If that’s a play on the Vincent Gallo movie, it’s probably an accurate title, but it doesn’t even include the gratuitous sex. Pastoral guitar, organ riffs, and gently orgiastic sighs, while pleasant, make a less gratifying end than, say, just one representative scream of knowing, accepting joyful frustration giving way to fruition.
Reviewed by: Dan Miron
Reviewed on: 2005-03-16