12/16/2004: "justus köhncke."
Cologne, about two blocks from the Kompakt offices on Werderstrasse
Last weekend, I got my hands on the new Justus Köhncke album Doppelleben, which gets its official release in January. Justus Köhncke (of Kompakt, but also of Whirlpool Productions fame) intrigues me because he doesn't seem to have any kind of formula or an instantly identifiable, signature sound the way someone like Superpitcher does. Every club anthem he's done sounds like it was made by a different person--the dark, paranoid pulse-throb of '2 After 909', the up-and-up-and-up tension-building mindfuck of 'Homogen', the tick-tock-tick symphonic glory of 'Timecode' (which has an AMAZING music video, by the way---be sure to check it out. Best argument for minimalism-is-the-new-maximalism I've seen in forever.) But then he also does all these great, sad pop songs that make me think he spends a lot of time by himself in his room with an acoustic guitar and a record collection that I'm guessing is heavy on '70s soul, the Pet Shop (and Beach) Boys, T. Rex... He has a pretty voice, and I like how he almost always sings in German, with a few exceptions. Köhncke doesn't seem to live the rock-star DJ life, and that's part of why I find him endearing; he seems to make no effort to be cool at all, and he wears his heart on his sleeve in this really goofy way. (On this album that I don't have but want called 'Spirals der Erinnerung,' he covers 'Nobody Does it Better'!)
I loved everything about Was ist Musik?, his first full album that came out maybe two or three years ago. I even liked the silly cover, which has this graph-paper background with messy blue Bic-pen scrawls on it and a nerdy photo of himself on the inside. The songs on Was ist Musik? are all over the map--a searing club banger in the aforementioned '2 after 909', the sweet, lilting Serge Gainsbourg-esque ballad of 'Weil du mich verstehst' (a duet with one of the dudes from Tocotronic!), the absurdly upbeat disco-squelch of 'Lucienne', the Moroderisms of 'Jet'. The last song on the album is a hilarious and moving cover of 'So weit wie noch nie' with the main melody played on a Theremin and gussied up in swirly, over-the-top disco flourishes. So I was pretty damn psyched for Doppelleben, the new one. It's pretty good, but uneven; I like it less than Was ist Musik? Here's my quick track-by-track rundown:
1. Elan (Dub)
As you might expect, it's just a brief version of 'Elan' (which comes later on) without the beat. Not sure why it's here, except as intro fluff.
Goofy vocoded Daft Punk-style vocal (that says "I'll do it--as long as I can dance to it") sampled over what sounds like a demo preset from the first Casio keyboard my dad bought me when I was a little kid. Plus spurts of synth-strings just for the hell of it. I dig.
3. Wo Bist Du?
I think this is beautiful--it's a sad and sappy pop song full of longing, complete with sensitive-guy guitar strums (eek!) and a soaring chorus. And it's sung in German that is so easy that even I understand it (Tobias if you are reading this you can laugh at me now)
Haha this sounds like latter-day Neubauten! Y'know, industrial-lite or something, complete with goth-sounding strings.
5. Weiche Zaune
This tune has been around for a while--it's pretty, but I like the dancier remix by The Modernist better (on Kompakt 100).
6. Herz Aus Papier
This is one of those tunes that works as a) music that plays while the credits roll at the end of a movie--a romantic comedy most likely, or b) one of those lights-down-low, turn-the-disco-ball-on songs that the DJ plays at 4 am when he wants people to leave. I like it though. Has some killer piano chords at the end.
I'm confused, because it starts out sounding like 'Timecode', then morphs into what tantalizingly promises to be an anthemic disco tune, but then it doesn't really go anywhere--it just sort of keeps looping, with subtle changes, for about eight minutes. It has this funny staccato beat that makes me wonder how to dance to it without bopping up and down.
8. Mu Arae
Another creepy ambient interlude. Sounds like movie soundtrack music for a scene involving an abandoned castle or something.
9. Alles Nochmal
10. Timecode (Edit)
The brilliant Timecode, which we all know and love, but here it's edited down from the original 8-minute version on the 12" to about 3 and a half minutes on the CD. Why mess with perfection? I don't understand!
11. The Answer is Yes
I already knew this cuz it's the b-side to 'Timecode'. I like it okay, but I wish he wouldn't switch from singing in German to singing in English mid-song--it's a little jarring. Stay in German mode, Justus! We love you!