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Pole - Steingarten

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Artist: Pole

Album: Steingarten

Label: ~scape

Review date: Apr. 18, 2007

After four years of hibernation, Stefan Betke's return to his own ~scape label should wake up those bored with the subtle clicks and blips of prior Pole albums. For a man who’s made his name championing minimalism, Betke has vastly expanded his palette, departing further from the lazy crackles of his earlier work and shifting full speed ahead into an entrancing dub danceland. His sixth full-length finds the German beat-tweaker keeping with the times and engaging the listener in a thump-heavy mass of meticulous movement. Distortion and melody are interwoven among the bumping low end, leaving little trace of his past M.O. Subtlety is still at work, but Betke’s pulse has quickened during his old(er) age.

First, however, we should probably write his last attempt at "pallete expansion" out of the history books. Thank the big dubplate in the sky that Betke abandoned the out-right hip hop flirtations featured on his self-titled 2003 album with MC Fat John, a collaboration that failed to meet its high ambitions. That unmitigated disaster would have shaken the confidence of any serious auteur, but it appears Betke has learned from those mistakes while refusing to relinquish the dream that spawned them. During his four-year hiatus, Betke hasn't shied away from energetic rhythmic foundations. Pole’s technique still relies heavily on the minimal, but Steingarten is garnished with a sonic density lacking on his first three full-lengths. Face it, there's a varying, situationally-based, fine line between “minimal” and “boring,” and Steingarten is a welcome evolution out of that argument. Betke is flat-out accessible here, as if he realized that Berlin dub doesn't necessarily need gloomy abandoned buildings to discern itself from the soundsystems of Jamaica.

It used to be a struggle nodding along to Pole records. The bodily appeal was there, teasing at steady movement underneath the breezy static and fuzzed-out obfuscations; the experience was rooted in the cerebral, snapping and crackling at glacial speeds. Steingarten changes all that with heavy textures and near-energetic breaks. Though not operating in the same specific context, some of the shuffling beats and revolving electronic montage here puts Pole strangely on par with South London’s dubstep elite, although Betke doesn’t wallow completely in that same dark digital pool.

The best example of Betke’s new threads is the album’s masterpiece, “Jungs” – a seven-minute chase through the corridors of circuit boards, increasingly under attack by falling neutron bombs raining down on the adrenaline rush. After such an intense excursion, Betke lets you down easy with the album’s closer, “Pferd,” a kiss goodnight to the sweaty aftermath of a breathtaking one-night stand. If Steingarten does prove to be merely a one-off fuck-and-run to fix what happened four years ago, and Betke eventually returns to Berlin's somber underbelly, his momentary lapse in character did not lie in vain.

By Cole Goins

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