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With his 2003 self-titled Pole album, Stefan Betke abandoned the minimalist glitch-dub of his previous three albums (and numerous singles and EPs) and embraced full-on overt beat construction, even going so far as to incorporate an MC/vocalist on some tracks in the form of positive rapper Fat Jon, at the risk of alienating his existing avant-inclined audience. Well, he's backed off a bit on Steingarten, at least enough to allow the accessibility of that work to inform his meticulous yet subverted groove, although he's at least back to pure instrumentals that retain that gritty Pole texture that we all know and love. Where in the past a simple snap, crackle & pop in their infinite variations, were enough to flesh out a Pole track, he has tipped his hand to show he has the ability and even the tendency to go aboveground with sample- and sequencer-based electronica. All but gone is his beloved proprietary Waldorf 4-Pole Filter, which supposedly has been the basis of all his arrangements (as legend would have it, the device was all the more distinctive after being dropped down a flight of stairs, or some such scenario) and Steingarten has him fleshing out his sound with additional equipment (unless perhaps he found some new switches and twists on the old device), much to the chagrin, possibly, of his purist old-school fans and much to the potential of mass appeal. Which is not at all a bad thing; Betke manages here to evoke his more traditional-minded contemporaries such as Luke Vibert and Mike Paradinas in an obvious display of playfulness and accessibility, and it works on every level. Yes, the established Pole sound is still here, but it is now so aboveground, warm, friendly, and dare it be said, danceable, that one wonders whether Betke has been hiding it all these years. Although those micro-dub workouts of the past were pure genius, is it possible he's found the absolute here, the perfect way of getting those subliminalist sounds in his head across to a mainstream audience? Only time will tell.

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