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Isolée: Well Spent Youth (Pampa)

I’ve been coming back to Isolée’s latest full-length over and over because something about it is to me quite alluring and compelling, and while I would hardly consider my writing on this blog to be momentous, I aim to be thoughtful about describing and endorsing fellow artists’ material. I’ve had my eyes and ears on Isolée for a while now, his anthem “Beau Mot Plage” catching my attention over ten years ago (as it did for so many others), and I could be wrong, but it seems like Rajko Müller has been striving to live up to or exceed the expectations set by that single ever since. Luckily for all of us, Müller doesn’t so much meet or exceed those expectations as sidestep them completely, over and over. None of his releases since have really neatly satisfied any particular dance music criteria, and while it all mostly qualifies as dancefloor-compatible, his music has always struck me as best enjoyed at home where the details are able to breathe and creep into my brain. Well Spent Youth at first seems like yet another in the on-going glut of techy house albums hitting shelves on a weekly basis, but there’s just something so, I don’t know, off about it. Each track feels slightly skewed, bent, distorted or otherwise out of wack while still functioning as dance music. Opening track “Paloma Triste” is a good indication of this balancing act, with a strange progression in its bassline and chords that feels almost-but-not-quite like a hook. There’s a lightness and smoothness in some of the arrangements that helps to combat the drunken plucked bass guitar and plodding drum track, and this unusual juxtaposition of vibes is something that feels to happen throughout the album. That’s not to say that Müller doesn’t occasionally get back to basics; the straight-up house groove of “Thirteen Times An Hour” is a welcome touch of regularity, and the smoothness of “In Our Country” is a nice closer after many of the more disorienting tracks that precede. But some of the more unpredictable tracks are my personal favorites, like the off-kilter repetition of “Going Nowhere” which actually feels quite complex in its arc, resolving in a really elegant way by the time it’s complete. The delayed guitar stutters of “Taktell” recall the epic groove of “Beau Mot Plage” without being too obvious about it, and “Trop Près de Toi” is an oddly infectious interlude with a cut-up vocal refrain. “One Box” is another seductive track that seems to combine all these disparate worlds into one swirling whole, a bunch of different parts working within and without one another, reminding me of a less minimal companion to the über-weird Soundvariation series by Andy Vaz. The only track that falls flat to me is “Transmission” with its robo-reverb vocal that works against the other disparate elements happening underneath. Otherwise, the assortment of sounds on the album shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s not particularly catchy, yet it draws me back repeatedly. It’s functional, compelling and confusing for a dancefloor, but strangely satisfying on headphones. Müller continues his legacy of dance music that veers enough out of bounds to be exciting and unique without being inaccessible.

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PAMPACD001 – Isolée – Well Spent Youth by Pampa Records