Various Artists

Total 2

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Kompakt's Total 2 compilation finds the Köln, Germany-based label broadening its scope, showcasing many of its second-wave producers and their esoteric sounds. Many have called the Kompakt sound tech-house, but that's a lazy and unrepresentative approach to summing up what's so brilliant about the music on this album. While it is true that these producers merge the sometimes opposing aesthetics of house and techno -- the former associated with accessible dancefloor rhythms and the latter associated with challenging emotive inducements -- they do more than that here; believe it or not, a few of the producers here even manage to incorporate melodic pop sensibilities to their beats, similar to what J. Burger did with his Modernist recordings. Besides the abrasive barrage of Reinhard Voigt's album-opening "Zu Dicht Dran," most of these tracks balance experimentation with melody amid minimal techno sounds and syncopated house rhythms. It's obvious that most of these producers have been studying their Studio 1 records when it comes to rhythms, but, more interestingly, they also seem to be listening to a lot of vocal pop, most evident on Michael Mayer's "Amanda" and Schaeben & Voss' "Fein Raus" -- a song that shamelessly swipes the vocal melody from Madonna's "Material Girl"! Of course, the "experimental melodic pop crossed with tech-flavored house trackiness" generalizations such as this don't work with every song on this thankfully diverse album; the last few songs, in particular, retain an accessible melodic edge, but drift into the sort of tranquil, spaced-out aural hallucinations found on the Chain Reaction records of Hallucinator, Fluxion, and Vladislav Delay. To bring this analysis to a close, it's really hard to grasp this album, mostly because it's so modestly accessible that a clinical dissection invites itself. Yet, at the same time, this second wave of Kompakt producers aren't producing simple music by any means, but rather music that parades itself as being accessible when underneath the melodies a tremendous amount of enriching esotericism remains waiting to be explored with each successive listen. In other words, don't underestimate what you hear; a fathomless wealth of enriching beauty lies beneath the Madonna-like, candy-flavored gloss.

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