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Justus Köhncke - Safe and Sound

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Artist: Justus Köhncke

Album: Safe and Sound

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Feb. 19, 2008

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 12”s and full-lengths. But measured against more general trends, Safe and Sound’s take on maximalism is as rooted in dance music formalism as the label’s most minimal releases, but has a warm, nostalgic cast. Köhncke’s interpretation of Michael Rother’s “Feuerland” arrives at the album’s 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. It’s less of a burner than a smolderer, though: for that, listeners would be well advised to look to the album’s 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 Prince’s 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 it’s a far cry from the aggro filter disco that’s working overtime as the conduit between indie and electro. The Ed Banger stuff that’s holding the symbolic door open does so mostly by recapturing untended-to feelings its listeners desperately want to set free. There’s 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 doesn’t 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 Kompakt’s 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. “(It’s Gonna Be) Alright” is the only song here to feature Köhncke’s vocals, and its loose warmth feels akin to The Juan Maclean’s 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 Köhncke’s particular relevance: his music, unlike that of Justice and their ilk, feels like it’s intended for people he’s not demographically linked to.

By Brandon Bussolini

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