Marcel Fengler: Fokus (Ostgut-Ton)
French producer Fengler shows off his chops yet again with his first full-length album for esteemed techno institution Ostgut-Ton. His singles in the past have ranged from total techno bangers (“Thwack”) to leftfield, angular dancefloor gems (“Enigma”), and Fokus seems to veer toward the latter, consistent with his other output on the Ostgut-Ton label. Not every track on Fokus is DJ-friendly, but it does flow quite well as an album. It starts off slow with the beatless intro “Break Through” followed by the dreamy opening stretch of “Mayria,” all pads and airy, floating vocals until the beat comes into focus (fokus?). Even then, though, “Mayria” is not exactly a club track; its broken beat and bit-crushed percussion chug in syncopation with a bob of the head more than fancy footwork. On “The Stampede,” Fengler shows off the techno chops he’s honed over the years, a no nonsense techno track that is heavy on snare fills and looping sixteenth note repetition. It’s probably the most pared down of the album, focused almost entirely on rhythm and litlte else. Other tracks like “Trespass” and “Dejavu” touch on musicality a bit more, but only on “Jaz” does Fengler really tap into the Detroit space-jam sound that he seems to obliquely reference elsewhere. Closing track “Liquid Torso” shares “Jaz”’s level of melodic spaciness, but it’s more of a chill-out denouement that helps wrap up the album. “King of Psi” is sort of the clubby counterpart to “Mayria,” starting off minimally with high-end drones and textures before introducing a staggered gunshot snare pattern. Once the bass drum kicks in, it all comes together. With the full-length format, Fengler is free to color outside the lines more, and “High Falls” is such a case, where filtered pads are modulated in rhythm without a beat. “Distant Episode” also shies from the dancefloor, relying on looping textures and pads anchored by a muted, underwater kick drum that feels more like a pulse than a beat. It’s interesting to hear Fengler sprawling out over a full-length album format instead of his usual more concise EPs of the past. In that sense, Fokus is much broader in scope and sound; Fengler is still cranking out quality jams that work on a dancefloor and on headphones equally, but he also has more latitude to explore less functional music here. There is very little of the tinges of house music that have crept into some of his singles, and overall I’d say the music is deeper and less punchy compared to a preceding EP like Frantic (2012), but as a listening experience start to finish it’s solid.