Various Artists: Kompakt Total 14 (Kompakt)
Anyone who’s read this blog for a while now or knows me well ought to know by now what an influence Kompakt has been on my taste and music over the years. When I heard their first couple of round-ups in the late 90s (starting with the Köln Kompakt 1 disc on Profan and then Total 1 on Kompakt a year later), it really struck me just how new and different this stuff sounded. Severely minimal, fearlessly restrained, and almost alien compared to most of the electronic music flourishing in the mainstream for that brief period (America’s brief love affair with “electronica” and the jazzifying of drum & bass, to name a few trends). Every year since, Kompakt has trotted out a memorable selection of both annual highlights and some new exclusives, initially with a single disc and then, starting with Total 6, two full CDs (unmixed). Kompakt skipped a year between Total 13 and Total 14, and I think they’re better off for it. Despite their spike in popularity about 10 years ago, being namechecked by Pet Shop Boys or Thom Yorke in major music publications or DJ mixes, Kompakt’s relevance remains primarily where it started, on the dancefloors of the underground. But Kompakt is not the more severe entity it presented itself as 15 years ago, and the music here touches on pop music and lush house more than ever. Their roster has expanded to include both their core founders (Wolfgang Voigt, Michael Mayer, Reinhard Voigt, Jürgen Paape) as well as more pop-oriented newer acts like Coma, GusGus, Damh, and Terranova.
Disc one starts off strongly with a smart choice from one of the best Kompakt 12” releases of recent past, “Lydia” by Dauwd. It’s a clear standout even here, well worth a listen for anyone who missed it the first time around. Coma’s “Atlantis” is the logical choice as a single cut but I much prefer the B-side on that EP (a small complaint, as it’s still good), a Balaeric disco track that fits in neatly alongside tracks from DJ Tennis or Maceo Plex (whose “Conjure Superstar” is a highlight as well). But there are some cleaner techno tracks here as well, such as the tightly wound “Horacio Delirium” from Saschienne (the latest project of Kompakt veteran Sascha Funke) or Sébastien Bouchet’s dark burner “Broken Heart” (wait for its totally crazy cuckoo-esque refrain about halfway through). House music fans will likely be pleased to hear some vocal tracks mixed in, such as the insistent “Headache” by Terranova (featuring vocals by Stereo MCs’ Cath Coffey) or the drowsy gallop of GusGus’s “This Is What You Get When You Mess With Love.” Of the new tracks, Superpitcher is probably my favorite, with a nice melancholic groove in “Delta.” It channels all of the best qualities of his dancefloor tracks and skips his own vocals this time in lieu of using a vocal R&B sample sparingly.
There are a few curveballs, as is often the case with these Kompakt compilations, and sometimes I like them while at other times I don’t so much. “Something” by Weval is a really stylish ending to the first disc, with its plodding downtempo kick and looping vocal phrases, a wistful respite before starting the second half. Some of the Kompakt heavyweights turn in both reliable and unexpectedly fun tracks, with Tobias Thomas and Michael Mayer collaborating on the rousing “Unter Hölzern,” Thomas Fehlmann galloping gloriously on an exclusive Total edit of “Eye” (reminding me precisely why he’s such a legend), and Voigt & Voigt’s seemingly endless looping of “Tischlein Deck Dich,” which falls a little flat to me despite its spiritedness. The only real dud for me is from Jürgen Paape, an unfortunate finale on the second disc which is full-on oompah, “Heuriger,” sounding like a cumbersome MIDI polka jam instead of pastiche.
Despite having some less successful moments, there are over 20 quality tracks to be found here, including others I haven’t mentioned by Gui Boratto (taken from his new album), Kölsch, Blond:ish, The Modernist, Justus Köhncke, The Field, and more. It’s well worth a listen for seasoned fans as well as newcomers, serving up a heaping helping of what Kompakt is all about in 2013-14.