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Album Review

The price Kompakt paid for its strong graphic identity and revered reputation can be summed up by one well-meaning but misguided phrase that is often used when discussing a bassline, a track, or even an entire DJ set: "Kompakt style." Despite releases that cover several stripes of dance and non-dance music, the concept of a Kompakt style shuts out a large portion of the label's output (in addition to shortchanging other producers and labels). We're talking about one of the most diverse dance labels around, something like a Sub Pop to Chain Reaction's Sarah. Michael Mayer, one of Kompakt's operators, deals with this very problem. None of his own adored tracks prior to Touch — "Heaven," "17 & 4," "Amanda," "Love Is Stronger Than Pride," "Falling Hands," the co-productions with Reinhard Voigt, and on and on — resemble one another beyond having a dance beat, and yet Immer and Fabric 13 — his pair of mix albums from 2002 and 2003 — have become so well-regarded that his name has become attached to the smooth-gliding, noir-ish kind of microhouse presented on both discs. Touch seems like a reaction to all of this. The dramatic opening title track signifies this immediately, with elaborate passages of swirling strings, distantly placed piano notes, and howling winds. Is this the Mayer everyone knows, or is it an ex-journeyman prog rocker who began dabbling in Pure Moods-tailored new age after departing the 25th lineup of the Soft Machine? The most surprising aspect of the album is how the tracks are as disjointed from one another as any imagined assemblage of Mayer's old material. For someone who notoriously unravels a story during each of DJ sets, it's alarming to hear him turn in an album where the relationships between the tracks are arbitrary. Out of the five new productions, most have elongated go-nowhere stretches where the repetition is more redundant than hypnotizing. Take the 11-minute "Slowfood," a track that fits more in a heist movie than on a dancefloor; well over the first half is spent on set up, with little in the way of payoff following. "Neue Luthersche Fraktur," however, is ideally paced, whipping into a brilliantly layered gale-force charger. The three old tracks are easily the best on the album. "Privat" is stately acid techno with pattering bongos and guitar flicks; "Amabile" is an amiable, circular shuffle; "Funky Handicap"'s strings of blight come off like a Cliffs Notes version of Moodymann's Forevernevermore album, translated from Detroit to Cologne. In these tracks, Mayer's most creative production ideas and DJ instincts lock right into place. They're enough to prevent Touch from being an album that's merely passable.

Biography

Born: 11 December 1971 in Black Forest, Germany

Genre: Electronic

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

The only point of criticism with Michael Mayer was that he didn't release enough of his own productions. One of the key figures of Cologne, Germany's electronic music scene, Mayer also had durable reputations as a remixer, DJ, and producer, and released a handful of his own singles on Kompakt — a label he helped run with founder Wolfgang Voigt — and Kompakt-related labels like New Trance Atlantic (NTA) and Kreisel 99. His own productions, whether dabbling in house or techno, tended to...
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Touch, Michael Mayer
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