Stevie Kotey has a way with words. Even if there was little else to recommend it, Wunderbutt’s titles give free rein to the imagination. You can concoct, say, a narrative that parallels the recession in the album, which opens mid-crisis with “Urgent Workout Required,” collapses through the peak-booty lament of “Cracks All Gone,” and concludes with the pragmatic “Take The Bus.” Luckily, Kotey’s first full-length release under the Afrobutt moniker, which he’s been using since 2000, does more than live up to its titles. The chewy space-disco of “Urgent Workout” establishes a simple broken strut before Technicolor synth-beams bleed upwards from the horizon. A strange, chunky break tamps down the momentum, with syncopated handclaps that feel like rolling down a flight of stairs on a bike. If, by minimal techno’s decreasingly relevant standards, the song seems overstuffed with ideas, it’s a little sketchy by Italo’s less stringent and more robust ones.
The feeling of incompleteness is countered with impressive effectiveness by the two following tracks, “Feast Your Eyes,” whose robo-stomp is only marred by the ascending grate of an exaggerated diva warble, and “Banger Disco,” K2 to the album’s Everest title track. Opening with a subdued djembe rumble, “Banger” explodes in full disco regalia, complete with synaesthetic keyb-shred, vaguely Bhangra vocals, and house flourishes on the piano’s upper registers.
The rest of the album might lack the sweaty immediacy of “Banger,” but proceeds with assured diction. Wunderbutt never sinks into anonymity, and pulls off the feat of celebrating and lingering over the breadth of dance music without losing its broad-minded disco bearings. Sandwiched in the album’s middle, the trilogy of “Kali Dreams,” “Torro de Butt,” and “The Taste (Round & Brown),” are dancefloor manna. “Torro de Butt” is the most minimal of the three, its molasses-saturated bassline holding sampled Brazilian vocals in its orbit. “Kali Dreams” and “The Taste”’s galloping funk is offset by rhythm-upsetting rototom slaps in the former and the robotic modulation – the kind you get from short delay times and lots of feedback – in the latter. It’s easy to single out the errant, counterintuitive moments as if they make these songs work, but as long as you’re not listening to Wunderbutt on headphones, the album’s real interest lies in the cumulative effect of the simultaneous elements in Kotey’s productions. We gather that his taste is catholic from these productions, but there’s no overeagerness, no desire to either micromanage his reference points or club the listener with didacticism.
And so, we arrive at “Wunderbutt” after a slew of strong tracks and only two kinda bummer numbers – “Morning Bump” and “Disco Mudma,” which both seem hindered by questionable vocal samples (though they’re also interesting enough to leave open the question of whether an album this bum-fixated needs some real tastelessness to feel appropriate). “Wunderbutt”’s fairly majestic, maybe more of a treadmill anthem than a club tune, and it sort of takes Lindstrøm’s fawned-over Where You Go I Go Too from behind, pushing out the Teutonic altitude-worship in favor of a warm sound that’s both physical and cosmic. Most satisfying for me is the main melodic line, which sounds like an astral projection of a harpsichord sequenced into knots, a sort of aural illusion where you find yourself auto-correcting the melody while attempting to actually figure out the complicated machinations of the thing your brain’s attempting to smooth over. Provided you give it plenty of room to exapand, Wunderbutt is the rare sort of record that only stands to gain from both home listening and dancefloor application.