When producer/DJ Timo Maas released Loud as his artist debut last year, expectations were running high. Well, okay -- my expectations were running high. To nearly everyone else, Maas was just that German dude who did the kick-ass remix of Azzido Da Bass's "Doom's Night". But to me, it had been screamingly obvious for some time that he was a gargantuan talent, one of those rare producers with a style so distinctive and so multi-layered that it rendered distinctions between house, trance, and techno totally irrelevant. Maas' music was just . . . Maasian. Maasive. Maasterful.
So, inevitably, when Loud came out, everyone loved it except me. Where I had set my expectations unreasonably high, everyone else was amazed to discover this versatile talent whose self-described "hard, wet" sound was equally at home on progressive dance floor packers like "Old School Vibe", electro-funk workouts like "Shifter", and fist-pumping soccer hooligan anthems like "To Get Down". For most dance music fans, Loud was a revelation. To me, it smacked more than a little of sellout. How else to explain the leap from oh-so-German progressive trance anthems like "Der Schieber" to the grinding guitars and cheesy English lyrics of "To Get Down"?
Now comes a remix compilation called Music for the Maases 2 (the first Music for the Maases being a retrospective double CD of original tracks and remixes released in 2000 to cash in on the success of "Doom's Night"), and everything about it should send my sellout-o-meter screaming off the charts. Instead of a messy, connoisseurs-only double disc set, it's a single tidy CD featuring Maasified versions of such club faves as Fatboy Slim's "Star 69" and Moby's "We Are All Made of Stars", plus one or two rockier tracks like Garbage's "Breaking up the Girl" to add just the right soupçon of guitar-slinging street cred. Commercial? You betcha. But here's the thing: Most of Music for the Maases 2 flat-out rocks. Unlike on Loud, when Maas the songwriter sometimes impeded the wild talents Maas the producer/mad-scientist studio whiz, here Maas and production partner Martin Butterich are free to cut loose, and the results are often astounding, even when the source material ain't all that. If these guys aren't already the most sought-after remixers in the business, they probably will be by the time you read this.
Not surprisingly, Maas and Butterich are at their best when their source material is strongest, even when they're bending it virtually beyond recognition. Such is the case with the compilation's standout track, the aforementioned remix of "We Are All Made of Stars", which takes Moby's feel-good synth-rock ditty and reimagines it as an atmospheric ass-shaker with a bassline so irresistible it would probably even make Colin Powell's hips twitch (whoa -- apologies for that image). Maas calls it a "dub" remix, probably because of that bone-rattling bass, but like his version of "Doom's Night", it really transcends categories -- the vocals are stripped down to the monotone vocoder of electro, the backbeat is pure house, the effects and breakdowns are decidedly trancey. What it is, in the end, is just an inspired dance track. Even Eminem fans might dig it.
Elsewhere, Maas lights a fire under Kelis' "Young Fresh and New", transforming her fairly tepid R&B into a thumping slab of spiky techno-funk; teases Garbage's "Breaking up the Girl" into a tweaky tour de force of funky breaks and Chemical Brothers-like noise; and even manages to make the insufferable UK glam-punks Placebo almost listenable with a bouncy dance remix of "Special K". He's equally effective remixing less well-known material, especially Spice's "69 Overdrive", on which Maas recycles the chunky backbeat that made "Help Me" one of Loud's strongest tracks, applying it here to a more abstract but decidedly funkier club anthem. The funk seems to be the biggest news on Music for the Maases 2; Maas has always used the term to describe his music, but more than ever he now seems intent on practicing what he preaches, abandoning the punishing techno beats of his past work in favor of a slinkier sound with more syncopations and fewer kick drums.
Not everything on Maases 2 works. The remix of Fatboy Slim's "Star 69" is all build and no payoff, paling in comparison to the ferocious attack of the original. His spare, progressive take on "Never Gonna Come Back Down" strips away too much of the frenetic novelty that made this collaboration between BT and Soul Coughing's M. Doughty one of the dream-trance master's more interesting recent releases. Better, but marred by its geeky new age lyrics ("Deep inside of me / There's a psychoactive sea"), is the remix of progressive trance duo Starecase's "See". This finds Maas and Butterich dipping back into their old bag of tricks, proving that they still know how to work the tension-and-release dynamics of progressive dance music better than almost anyone. Better still is an interestingly groovy remix of a new track from British dance-pop veterans Moloko; "Familiar Feelings" isn't their best work, but Maas' take on it, emphasizing a jazzy bass guitar loop and jittery breakbeat/trip-hop rhythms and effects, is the perfect foil to the edgy sultriness of Roison Murphy's vocals.
I'd like to report that the one original Maas/Butterich track in this set, the new tune called "Unite", is a highlight, but alas, it's a fairly uninspired club anthem with two, count 'em, two cheesy drum roll climaxes and further proof that Maas' taste in lyrics does not match his taste in music. "Faith, creed, color, religion", a monotone, heavily filtered voice intones over a stomping backbeat and bubbly synth hook. "Dance, junkies, movement, unites". Dance junkies will indeed love Music for the Maases 2, but for Maas' skills as a reinterpreter of others' work, not for a throwaway track like "Unite".