he vampires above us seem to smile upon the notion of a techno mix with an affinity usually reserved for kindred spirits. It’s a well-known fact that producers have great difficulty bringing the creativity, energy, and dynamics that spawn from the musical contours of a five-hour DJ set into a cohesive and representative studio album. Some acts dodge the question entirely by devoting albums to song-based tracks or downtempo experimentation, others simply compile their vinyl sides and remixes. Yet, even if the vampire gods may leave us with anemic studio albums, we noble listeners can still find a surrogate portrait of the live DJ by way of the digital mix.
The story with Superpitcher (Aksel Schaufler) is a familiar one in house circles: producer creates a stir with singles and remixes, anticipation builds, and the belated delivery of the full-length album gets decidedly mixed reactions. His early classics like “Tomorrow,” “Shadows,” or “Heroin” were equally amorous as they were melancholic, and part of the joy was hearing how the beats slightly lagged behind the melodies, as if they were partially impaired by the overall sentimentality. When Here Comes Love was released last spring, many people were surprised to find him going pop, including vocals (if not choruses) on every track. While “Happiness” (and its attendant remixes) has become a DJ staple of everybody from John Digweed to Damian Lazurus, the album’s focus on vocals ended up usurping the rhythms and atmospheres as the centripetal force, thus failing to showcase Schaufler’s instrumental mastery of weaving melancholic motifs around seven minutes of breathing room.
Today (cleverly titled to fill in the missing gap of his “Yesterday” EP and “Tomorrow” single) is not only Kompakt’s best mix CD since Triple R’s Friends, it also acts as handy introduction to so-called “Microgoth” subgenre, a crossover between minimal techno and theatrical gloom that has previously been confined to vinyl-only releases. You can hear the impetus for this movement in Michael Mayer’s Immer and Fabric 13 mixes, which contain druggy and shadowy epics like Phantom/Ghost’s “Perfect Lovers” and Richard Davis’s “Bring Me Closer,” as well as the black glamour of Closer Musik’s entire oeuvre. Schaufler’s mix maintains this type of narcotic blush throughout, and allows for the momentum to slowly thaw from an artic chill to a romantic glow.
While the sequencing is flawless and unobtrusive, each track is still strong enough to leave an impression on its own. Besides a slow swelling in the thickness of sound, Schaufler’s tracks are never placeholders, and every one is given its fair share of time to wander in and out of high drama and doleful desire. The permanently sullen Lawrence is given the honors to open the mix with his prickly Ghostly International single “Spark,” a frosty number where the pulsating drones and basslines allude to a mountaintop view of the Arctic. A handful of recent Kompakt releases follow, led by DJ Koze’s “Let’s Help Me,” which pits a stiff mechanical riff riddled with claustrophobia against random clearings of warm synth pads. Due to its title, I’ve always imagined the song as a battle between psychiatrist and stubborn patient, where the synth pads are the only time the shrink is able to get through to the poor paranoid DJ Koze. Following this intervention are the strained sexual whispers of Michael Mayer’s “Lovefood,” as Matias Aguayo’s remix reworks the Latinized microhouse of Luciano and Villalobos into a barren orgy of despair.
The middle half of the mix drops the brittleness for gothic theatrics, with Oliver Hacke’s classic “21:31” (aka track 7 on Subject Carrier) and The Psychonauts deep-throated elegy “World Keeps Turning.” It’s at this point when the tracks not only become more danceable, but more akin to Schaufler’s own productions and remixes. Nathan Fake’s epic “Dinamo,” surely the best record released by Traum in ages, delves deep into a minimal acid funk groove, with laser keyboard shots that often sound more like arena rock guitars. After opening up Michael Mayer’s recent Speicher 2 mix, Wighnomy Bros’ “Wurz und Blosse” returns here for an encore CD performance, and still manages to awe and thrill with its lock-groove bassline and heavily echoed shouts. Today doesn’t go out bangin’ though, as Sebastien Tellier’s jazzy piano ballad “La Ritournelle” ends the mix with some class, cozying the listener up at a mushy romantic dinner of champagne and light necking.
In many ways, Today can be seen as the younger sibling to Michael Mayer’s Immer mix. The two mixes parallel each other in their superb sequencing of mood and momentum, their pronounced track selection, and their ability to define the artist in question better than their debut studio albums ever could. Today may not have the shock of discovery that Immer has, but it is more agile and suitable for the dancefloor, and it raises the bar for what a minimal mix can do in 2005. Bon apetit, madames and monsieurs.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MAY 15 – MAY 21, 2005