Various Artists

Group of Connected Heads

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Berlin continues to be the incubator for much of what's new and interesting in beat-based music, whether it's experimental dub reggae, avant-garde house, or off-the-wall cosmic techno. One of the Berlin labels at the forefront of new developments in the techno sound is Highgrade, which maintains a Teutonically disciplined schedule of releases (one vinyl and one digital release per month) and artist acquisition (at least two new artists per year). Ten years after its inception, the label released this compilation of tracks by its core stable of artists: Marcus Homm, Prompt, Mihai Popoviciu, Heinrichs & Hirtenfellner, and seven others. While the tempos and basic beat structures are nearly identical from track to track, the album is saved from sonic tedium by the details: in every case, the edges of the beats are crisp and almost microscopically sharp; in several cases (such as Popoviciu's "Ideas from Nowhere" and Andri's "Guru") there are tiny and intriguing scraps of vocal floating around unpredictably in the mix; on Jens Bond's "Keep Moving," the texture changes up and humorously cheap-sounding percussion takes over; Heinrichs & Hirtenfellner's "Walk the Sun" uses weird muting and what sounds like a typewriter to create an unusually cool and interesting sound field. And toward the end of the program, Markus Sur's "Swamp Fever 630" actually starts breaking up the settled rhythmic thump and click in favor of something a bit more varied. The end result is a collection that offers much more variety and musical interest than one might expect based on a superficial encounter.

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