Album Review: DJ Koze, “Amygdala”

Amygdala

Sometimes, when listening to a Beethoven piano trio or a Mahler symphony, I lament Western art music’s obsession with development. About three minutes in I’ll hear a melodic fragment and think, “Ooh! I want more of that!” But the composer all too often moves swiftly to transform the theme, introduce new themes, or simply let that snippet appear and then swiftly disappear, a lone figure in a Bayeux Tapestry of sound. In some ways, then, modern electronica is the antithesis to classical music; not because of instrumentation or modernity, but because it often holds its themes static. The transformations occur not in the classical development of the basic melodic or harmonic material, but rather in the build-up and release of tension through the skillful addition and subtraction of sonic elements.

Amygdala (2013), the latest (double) LP from German producer DJ Koze (Stefan Kozalla), lives and dies on precisely this manipulation of texture. Kozalla takes his time constructing his musical world, interweaving burbling synths, neo-disco beats, and off-the-wall samples over the course of two discs and almost eighty minutes. He has the musical resourcefulness to make it work much of the time; his warm, analog aesthetic keeps his impish playfulness in check (just look at that album artwork), engendering an expansive, late-night ambience that invites the listener to relax and settle into the groove.

It’s an approach that demands strong material, however. Sometimes sources are stretched beyond their limits; for instance, the record bogs down in the middle with the too-long “La Duqesa” and “Marilyn Whirlwind.” Other times Kozalla’s predilection for unusual juxtapositions gets the better of him, as when Matthew Dear’s incongruous vocals almost torpedo the cozy R&B of “Magical Boy.” But when Kozalla’s fertile imagination has a strong source to play with, as on “Das Wort” or “Ich schreib’ dir ein Buch,” Amygdala takes off into electro-acoustic space jams worthy of French duo Air. (Interestingly, both aforementioned tracks feature vocal samples re-appropriated from Marvin Gaye.)

DJ Koze shows his sense of humor on the final track “NooOoo,” closing out this moody vocal showcase with a cheeky quote from Johann Pachelbel’s ubiquitous Canon. It’s an appropriate touch: Pachelbel’s “greatest hit” exemplifies in many ways the additive/subtractive, texture-rich aesthetic of modern electronic music in general, and of Amygdala in particular. Not everything bears repetition – editing down to a single disc would’ve resulted in a far more potent listen. But repeated listens are nevertheless necessary to wear the good stuff in.

6/10

Buy it here. Spotify it here.


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