Since the late ‘90s, the two biggest labels in German electronic music have arguably been Kompakt and International Deejay Gigolo, the latter of which is DJ Hell’s baby. Yet, despite releasing powerful albums from Miss Kittin & the Hacker, Dopplereffekt, Psychonauts and Fischerspooner, Gigolo continues to play second fiddle in the import market. From the looks of it, this will not change any time soon.
Hell himself is one of the world’s biggest wax spinners, as evidenced by the caliber of guest musicians he convinces to appear on his studio albums. NY Muscle featured the likes of Erlend Øye (Kings of Convenience), James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem, DFA) and Alan Vega (Suicide), among others. His fourth original-artist album, Teufelswerk is even more impressive. The work counts input from the likes of Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music, P.Diddy, Christian Prommer and Peter Kruder (Kruder & Dorfmeister). Sadly, like NY Muscle, his latest offering still falls short of being the breathtaking marvel it should be.
Teufelswerk (which is German for “devil’s work”) certainly sounds more complete than its predecessor. Where NY Muscle often came off like a series of half-completed ideas spliced with random lyrical gibberish, his newest record is a fully formed double-disc exploration of club friendly house and the modern producer’s take on ambient Krautrock. These ventures have been separated into respective “Night” and “Day” disks.
“Day” is the clear winner. Though he takes credit for much of the record, Kruder tangibly takes a more prominent role in the production. Several of the soundscapes created hearken back to the original electronic music of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. “Germania” alone shows shades of the likes of Morton Subotnick, Bernard Fevre and Kraftwerk, with a journey-length synth progression, various blips and no bass whatsoever.
Lead single, “The Angst” follows a simple yet effective acoustic/electric guitar progression with atmospheric vocals over a steady, soft beat. “The Angst Pt. 2” drops the organic instrumentation but satisfactorily continues and builds on the thematic development of the first half, proving a great choice for a single. The disc closes on a brilliantly tweaked cover of “Silver Machine” by Hawkwind, complete with perfectly druggy vocals, matching the epic ‘80s whimsy of the instrumental that builds up steam throughout.
Conversely, “Night” could be considered NY Muscle‘s older brother who failed a grade or two. Bryan Ferry sounds old and disinterested on the “U Can Dance” opener, a track that tries a little too hard to sound popular. Likewise, Diddy’s ramble on “The DJ” never approaches anything compelling or even anything like rapping. It’s just him bitching about how DJs spin the four-minute version of tracks rather than the 20-minute version, and then thanking himself for the observation. How pissed would you be to spend $20-$30 to see a famous deejay, and he only spins six tracks over the course of two hours? I know I would be livid. The fact is real DJs mix, and those worth the money don’t make it obvious they’re mixing, so his complaint that he can’t get into his groove in four minutes doesn’t really hold weight.
Lyrics aside, the whole of “Night” is the usual standard of chugging beat, cheesy retro-synth house we have come to expect from Hell: The kind of well-produced fodder you’re likely to hear the average, uninspired club deejay train-wreck on a Saturday night. It certainly has its place, and even this fun-hating critic can get in the mood to hear this stuff from time to time, but the album is way down the list of possible recommendations to friends. Most Kompakt releases leave it in the dust.