Reviewers frequently break down dance music as being suited either for the club or for headphones, but what of the music that accompanies getting there and back? Nina Kraviz’s full-length debut sounds like a nearly ideal soundtrack to a walk home from Berghain or Watergate. Her idiosyncratic approach to deep house unfurls at a remove from the club even as it continually references it. The tracks come together in the same way that your ringing eardrums and overstimulated mind contrive to continue the last beat you heard, but end up creating a personal tattoo on their own.
The appeal of Kraviz’s music, at least on the Moscow producer’s debut LP, lies in the way it captures these restive in-between states — “coming down,” in other words, or the ambivalent excitement and hassle of going out. It’s hardly a hidden theme, its most tellingly titled tracks being “Walking in the Night,” “Taxi Talk,” “False Attraction,” and “Working.” It’s a solitary record set against a communal backdrop, using house’s vocabulary in unorthodox ways. Her tracks often feel structurally unsound initially, but build according to a tastefully unexpected logic. Kraviz has released music on labels like Underground Quality and Efdemin’s Naïf in addition to Rekids, but her style can’t be easily subsumed into a scene. Whether it’s the illegible, chopped vocals on “Ghetto Kraviz,” the breathy “I don’t trust you anymore”s of “Taxi Talk,” or the cockeyed opening shuffle of “False Attraction,” Kraviz’s personality and taste are way up front.
Opting to go inward, and showing a kind of benign disregard for club audiences, is an audacious move coming out of the gate. It’s an easy one to fuck up, too. The chances taken on Agoria’s Impermanence — another album guided by personality and artistic license — fell flat more often than not, making for an album whose standout was a relatively traditionalist deep house cut rather than the Carl Craig guest spot or the chamber-pop numbers. Nina Kraviz isn’t a perfect album, but it acts like it’s exactly what it wants to be. None of the tracks seem to be simply bad, nor particularly tedious. The album runs a little long, but I’m not sure what I’d cut. “Turn on the Radio” is itself sluggish, but its disco strut makes for a fine transition from the ambient plinking of “4 Ben.” “Choices” doesn’t do much for me, but I kind of savor its architecture, with a floating, dreamily dissonant jazz phrase ducking into a subliminal bassline as Kraviz’s vocals stew in their own echoes.
Reading the Resident Advisor comments around this album, I thought Kraviz had the potential to be a divisive figure. But Nina Kraviz speaks for itself: with its elliptical club jams, bruised-red house and hungover ambient, it turns recognizable forms to Kraviz’s own ends. That the unresolved and compellingly cryptic “Ghetto Kraviz” is, in rock terms, the lead single hints at the album’s moodiness and strange compositional approach. In other words, it’s the kind of album you’d expect from someone who threw the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd on her RA mix. Overall, it works — some moments are more enjoyable than others, but there’s an undeniable flow and integrity to the tracks and their sequencing. The compromise with such well-executed mood music is that only “Ghetto Kraviz” really pops, but what matter when there are so many other equally interesting, gritty spaces to slink through?