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Safe and Sound

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Album Review

Approximately three years passed between Justus Köhncke's second and third Kompakt albums, roughly the same amount of time that separated the first from the second. It's not for that reason alone that Safe and Sound, co-produced with established cohort Fred Heimermann, seems timely. Just when dance music seems to be at its most stylistically mixed-up, Köhncke — a proud syncretist by nature who has always pulled not just from techno and house and trance but disco, electro (actual electro), pop (European and American), Krautrock, Neue Deutsche Welle, ambient, and more — supplies his most solid, most pleasing, most commingled set of tracks. With his oft-polarizing song/vocal-based tracks apparently diverted to his Kinky Justice alias, Köhncke focuses on dancefloor instrumentals that are linked by the occasional (and equally effective) mood-and-atmosphere piece. (Both "Tilda" and "Spukhafte Fernwirkung" are gorgeous — why hasn't he been more of a presence in the Pop Ambient series?) Even the references are less overt, less crude, less tongue-in-cheek, than normal: for instance, only a sliver of "Yacht" leans on the gently swooning bit from Grace Jones' "Slave to the Rhythm." Though Köhncke has toned down some of his mischief-making instincts, the album lacks nothing in charm, each one of its chunky-yet-adroit, hip-propelling rhythms graced with melodic and textural elements that make them all seem as light as air. One exception that is heavy in every respect is "$26," the only track that sounds like it was made in the environment Köhncke inhabits for recording purposes (an underground space once put to use by a butcher). It's the producer in a rare unsmiling moment; though a jakbeat mix would only have use for its chilling dub-acid-techno as a point of relief from a demented physical pounding, it's almost as sinister as anything in the field. (It could also double as a lost track from disc two of Meat Beat Manifesto's Subliminal Sandwich [not a dis].) The only cover is of Michael Rother's "Feuerland," and it's also the album's only clear-cut slip-up, a rather clunky update that lacks the original's casual sleaze. Even if a couple other tracks had similar faults, Safe and Sound would be an undeniable triumph.


Born: 1966 in Giessen, Germany

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Extending his voracious musical appetite for all things avant-garde, pop, and dance into his own output, German producer Justus Köhncke has flirted with the charts (as one third of Whirlpool Productions, who had a hit in their homeland with "From Disco to Disco"), covered Janis Ian and Marvin Hamlisch, and has released material on the Kompakt label. Köhncke began releasing solo material in 1999 with Spiralen der Erinnerung (Spirals of Memory), an album that consisted solely of covers. Two years later,...
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Safe and Sound, Justus Köhncke
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