he shock of the new: Juergen Paape’s “How Great Thou Art” was a record that confounded upon its release. It’s supremely strange mix of a synthetic wall of strings bashing out one chord every four bars and the beat that accompanied it so obviously didn’t mix with one another that one had to check the vinyl to make sure two records weren’t playing at once, somehow oddly synching together to create a mesmerizing, but wrong, mish-mash of sound. It was a sound unlike any other at the time, a sound that was to be oft-repeated, but rarely duplicated.
The particular brand of unsettling wooziness seemed to be provenance of a few select Kompakt producers, but few picked up what is now slowly beginning to be called microgoth. It’s major tenets are few and hardly formed, but most that could be described as microgoth seem to have a large quantity of strings and minor-key melodies at their disposal. It’s the stuff of early-in-the-night mixes where the mood is slowly being set and few are on the dancefloor yet. Lawrence would be a prime example.
Alex Smoke might also fit into that category, if his album wasn’t so incredibly varied. His best songs: “Don’t See The Point,” “No Consequence,” and “Chica Wappa” all feature a healthy topping of strings amid their varied takes on house. But as easy as it is to assign genres and allow confused music listeners to sort them out, it’d be a disservice to just leave it there in Smoke’s case.
That’s because every time you think you have him pinned down, something like “Brian’s Lung” emerges to break down your preconceptions. That track starts out like a typical electro-house burner only to be upended, before its momentum is built up too much, by a frightening hardcore bass breakdown that could easily pass for vintage 1992. The mix is unexpected, but works beautifully. Somehow the track can encompass that and revert back to its normal shape without missing a beat.
Similarly, “Jah Future” sounds like little else here, by doing exactly what it claims will it do: chart out a possible future for the sounds of reggae. It’s dub of the highest order and acts as a much needed break from the relative monotony of the 120-128 bpm rut that house albums tend to find themselves within.
But for every experiment that works, there’s one that just doesn’t quite get there. “Coda and Clang” is by-the-numbers Richard Devine IDM, “OK” has way too much going on to be able to extricate anything meaningful from it, and “Passing Through” suffers from the same surfeit of ideas.
But the Basement Jaxx syndrome should be the last criticism to level at a young producer. By all means, throwing everything in the pot and seeing what works best is the only way to find a coherent and mature voice. While this is one messy and, at times, disappointing debut, it’s one brimming with ideas and talent. Smoke is definitely one to watch.