Every review of Safe And Sound will include some variation on the idea that Justus Köhncke is the wild card in Kompakt's deck. And with his latest LP, the idea continues to have purchase, even if last year's goofy Supermayer LP threatened to crowd Köhncke out of the pop-referencing niche he'd established on his previous 12s and full-lengths. But measured against more general trends, Safe and Sounds take on maximalism is as rooted in dance music formalism as the labels most minimal releases, but has a warm, nostalgic cast. Köhnckes interpretation of Michael Rothers Feuerland arrives at the albums halfway point as a self-imposed challenge, and the way the final product avoids the pitfalls awaiting it I feared a flat-footed rehearsal of German national character or, worse, a slab of uninspired rock/electronic music history is an argument for the album as a whole.
The trademark Neu!-isms that set the track up seem designed to exploit the mild inattention they create, and Köhncke takes full advantage, subbing out the watery, understated melodies of the original for a fierce pile-on of what sound like overdriven software synths. Its less of a burner than a smolderer, though: for that, listeners would be well advised to look to the albums second half. Parage in particular is nasal drip-inducing manna, an Italodisco jammer whose string samples hover threateningly over a chugging rhythm snipped from ESG. The champagne keyboards on Molybdän get the hall-of- mirrors echo treatment, surfacing like a sunny twin to Pantha du Princes frosty romanticism. But as much bleed as this album has around its edges, the core is Kompakt house pur et dur.
Which is one way of saying that its a far cry from the aggro filter disco thats working overtime as the conduit between indie and electro. The Ed Banger stuff thats holding the symbolic door open does so mostly by recapturing untended-to feelings its listeners desperately want to set free. Theres something desperately grunge adolescence about groups whose main discernable purpose consists of breaking down their listeners ironic distance from their own post-Nirvana listening habits. This album doesnt quite have a shot at that key demographic: it might kick off with a track called Yacht, but the tone is expansive and accommodating, explicitly not pinned down to its own sense of irony. In comparison to its predecessor, Doppelleben, this album draws its strength from its expansiveness: only two of the ten tracks here clock in under the five-minute mark.
If Köhncke is Kompakts token pop-tinged producer, Safe and Sound finds him less preoccupied with his double life than getting down to brass tacks with his songwriting game. (Its Gonna Be) Alright is the only song here to feature Köhnckes vocals, and its loose warmth feels akin to The Juan Macleans electro-jam opus Dance with Me. The lyrics, all of which are relayed in the title above, are a self-fulfilling prophecy: the squirmy g-funk synth melody that wends its way through the track is all summer barbeques and sleeping in. This is the real measure of Köhnckes particular relevance: his music, unlike that of Justice and their ilk, feels like its intended for people hes not demographically linked to.