Michael Mayer – & / !K7 Records
On his third solo LP, the Cologne producer Michael Mayer collaborates with a different artist on each track. The album plays to his strengths, balancing strict grooves with faint hints of mischief.
The founders of Cologne’s Kompakt label have grown into their established characters: The silver-haired co-founder Wolfgang Voigt is the stern but affectionate paterfamilias. Reinhard Voigt, his younger brother, will forever be the excitable teen. Superpitcher, with his scarves and propensity for torch songs, is the dandy with Romantic leanings, prone to locking himself in his room with a copy of Baudelaire. Michael Mayer, on the other hand, has always seemed like the sociable, comparatively well-adjusted one—outgoing, generous (he specializes in marathon sets of eight hours or more), sensitive, fundamentally upbeat, plays well with others. The good son, in other words, the golden boy.
He has never been the most prolific artist—&, released on the long-running electronic clearing-house !K7, is only his third solo album in 13 years—but his easy charm offers a crucial counterbalance to the more difficult tendencies of Kompakt, the label he co-founded. While Wolfgang Voigt has sampled Kafka audiobooks and foraged glumly through the German Wald, Mayer specializes in self-evident anthems like “Good Times” and the no-frills “Speaker” (with its so-brainless-it’s-brilliant refrain, “I am your speaker/Speaker, speaking to you/I am not talking/I’m speaking, speaking to you”). Above all, he has endeavored to remind techno fans of the centrality of pop and disco, even at the humorless height of the minimal techno craze.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that while many producers thrive on solitude, Mayer tends to draw his energy from other people. It’s part of what makes him such a sharp DJ and such a talented producer of euphoric, good-natured fare. Much of his earliest work was collaborative. He, Reinhard Voigt, and Tobias Thomas used to record as Forever Sweet, while he and Thomas comprised the short-lived Friends Experiment. In 2007, after a considerable spell in which it seemed he’d never get around to following up his debut LP, Touch, he and Superpitcher teamed up for the gonzo, not entirely satisfying SuperMayer project. His new album translates that round-robin approach to the studio, as Mayer teams up with a different artist on every song.
The album plays to his strengths. It is more playful than his last LP, and also more finessed. The opening “We Like to Party,” a collaboration with Roman Flügel, is among the best things he’s produced. Goofy name notwithstanding, the track offers the perfect blend of over-the-top thrills and subtle details. This is the kind of craftsmanship that doesn’t show its hand: A funny little ersatz sax riff goes sailing over artfully layered percussion that fills up every available space without ever feeling cluttered. There are snippets of vinyl scratching and crowd-stoking shouts reminiscent of hip-house’s heyday. It is joyous, faintly ridiculous, and versatile: It would work wonders on a festival stage, but it’s clearly made with 200-capacity rooms in mind, for parties where everyone knows everyone else and the floor is sticky with prosecco.
The rest of the album follows in similar fashion. “Disco Dancers,” a reunion with core labelmates Jörg Burger and Wolfgang and Reinhard Voigt, balances loose-limbed, good-times disco with a gently unhinged clarinet solo in the psychedelic breakdown. “State of the Nation,” with the trance-leaning Brazilian producer Gui Boratto, tips into the latter musician’s rich, creamy chord progressions with a delirious grin; if you could bronze a sunset, it’d appear something like this. “Gemination,” with Kompakt labelmate Kölsch, does an admirable job of translating Depeche Mode’s sweeping dramatic gestures via punchy, precision-engineered techno. (If “We Like to Party” is aimed at small rooms, this one’s meant to be supersized.) And the Agoria collaboration “Blackbird Has Spoken” might top them all. The chord progression feels simple at first—just sumptuous strings, slathered on liberally. But the longer you listen, the more it feels like a riddle, in which ascending and descending voices leave you twisting in midair. It’s ecstatic and not a little dizzying, like the feeling of coming up on a drug, but it’s also comforting. You want to stay inside it and linger. As new harmonies keep piling up, the sense of physicality intensifies, like a dream of running underwater.
Sometimes the craftsmanship outstrips the expression. “Voyage Interieur,” a throwback electro jam featuring Miss Kittin, is a note-perfect period piece, but its cool is so studied you find yourself checking for a pulse. At the same time, even though Joe Goddard’s voice is full of quirk and character, it isn’t quite enough to make his song interesting. “Comfort Me,” a Prins Thomas co-production featuring husky vocals from Irene Kalisvaart, aims for Fleetwood Mac, but from the Spanish guitar to the vocal harmonies, it’s an uphill slog. And while the Hauschka collaboration, a freestyle/chamber-music fusion, is clever enough—Fairlight orchestra hits meet actual orchestra—it doesn’t feel as necessary as the album’s best material.
Mayer is far better working alongside Barnt on “Und Da Stehen Fremde Menschen” (“And There Stand Strangers”), which folds a folky sample of what sounds like a German Nick Drake into a tough, moody swirl. Dissonant organs mash and hits of helium tilt toward the stratosphere, but the crisp beat never falters and the doleful vocals keep us grounded. It goes to the crux of what Mayer does best, balancing a strict, buttoned-up groove with the faintest hint of mischief.
ARTIST: Michael Mayer & Agoria, Michael Mayer & Andrew Thomas, Michael Mayer & Barnt, Michael Mayer & Burger / Voigt & Voigt, Michael Mayer & Ed Macfarlane, Michael Mayer & Gui Boratto, Michael Mayer & Hauschka, Michael Mayer & Joe Goddard, Michael Mayer & Kolsch, Michael Mayer & Miss Kittin, Michael Mayer & Prins Thomas / Irene Kalisvaart, Michael Mayer & Roman Flugel
LABEL: !K7 Records
ORIGINAL RELEASED: 2016-10-28
TOTAL TRACKS: 12
Michael Mayer & Agoria – Blackbird Has Spoken (05:48) 122.97bpm/
Michael Mayer & Andrew Thomas – Cicadelia (07:09) 120.01bpm/
Michael Mayer & Barnt – Und Da Stehen Fremde Menschen (06:15) 122.01bpm/
Michael Mayer & Burger / Voigt & Voigt – Disco Dancers (04:54) 122.02bpm/
Michael Mayer & Ed Macfarlane – Mind Games (03:58) 124.02bpm/
Michael Mayer & Gui Boratto – State Of The Nation (06:02) 125.00bpm/
Michael Mayer & Hauschka – La Compostela (05:11) 120.03bpm/
Michael Mayer & Joe Goddard – For You (04:27) 124.06bpm/
Michael Mayer & Kolsch – Germination (07:41) 123.01bpm/
Michael Mayer & Miss Kittin – Voyage Interieur (03:53) 120.06bpm/
Michael Mayer & Prins Thomas / Irene Kalisvaart – Comfort Me (05:32) 122.00bpm/
Michael Mayer & Roman Flugel – We Like To Party (05:44) 120.00bpm/
Total Playtime: 01:06:34 min