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Michael Mayer - Touch

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Artist: Michael Mayer

Album: Touch

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Dec. 6, 2004

The wait is over, someone rolled away the stone; Michael Mayer’s debut solo album exists. Third time lucky, so the saying goes, but with Mayer, the fourth’s the charm; after a series of non-productive attempts, he’s finally created something that’s on speaking terms with the goods.

Those cognisant vis-à-vis Kompakt label hierarchies will understand the importance of this document. Mayer is the Kompakt ambassador, the label’s best-known DJ, trailing five mix discs behind him whose variable aesthetics shift from gray-scale minimalism through populist machinations to desiccated Techno. His own productions, collected on a series of 12” singles and compilations, move through Chicago house tribute to ecstatic pop reveries, with vocal tracks like “Falling Hands” and “Hush Hush Baby” full of light-headed delirium, gaseous expulsions of texture and naggingly catchy hooks. A compilation of these assorted tracks alone would have made for an incomparable disc - a kind of user’s guide to the best of the Kompakt world (although Mayer, admittedly, has not dabbled so much in the label’s Pop Ambient line.) Mayer is also a top-grade remixer and one of the business heads of the Kompakt empire.

The giddy joys of Mayer’s pop-vocal productions had most Kompakt heads hoping for an album of same, but, echoing a general tendency in recent label output, Mayer’s debut album is resolvedly a Techno thing. The title track, opening the album with all the bombast of firing cannons, is a classic example of Techno’s build-to-release, ascending pianos and strokes of steely sound repeatedly dissolving as the metronomic insistence of Mayer’s four-foot pulse swats at your cranium and legs. Mayer includes both sides of his recent 12”, “Privat/Amabile”, on the CD version, and the latter track is the album’s sole excursion into the Schaffel rhythm. To be honest, its inclusion feels a little unnecessary, especially given the recent proliferation of Schaffel tracks. Besides, “Privat” is by far the superior, a perpetual event horizon scored by a scrunched, chik-a-chik guitar mnemonic that acts as a ghost-motif.

Touch may be considered by many as Mayer’s ‘return-to-Techno’ (though even that’s a slight misnomer - Mayer and Kompakt have always pursued, with some insistence, their own vision of Techno through the Speicher 12” series), but as the record progresses he also returns to his trademark melancholy - that near-indefinable moodiness best captured on his first 12” “17 und 4”. By “Lovefood”, the sole vocal track, Mayer is weeping into his mixing desk, letting loose waves of strings and side-of-the-mouth sighs. “Funky Handicap”’s wheezing, woozy textures actually sound a little like the destabilising warps and buckles of early Mouse on Mars, hitched to a rhythm with an undeniable gait - frisky yet understated.

Which leads one to ponder Touch’s relationship to the Techno mothership. If Kompakt’s output can tend toward a subtilised version of Techno’s big-scale emotional ruptures, then it’s worth reading records like Touch as the melancholy cross-wiring of Techno’s affective drive. I would never presume to describe Mayer and Kompakt and their allies as ‘the third way’, but there’s something in their attempts to source maximal output from minimal beginnings that posits a riveting tension in the best of their music. Dance music that is drenched in sadness, searching for a way out onto the floor.

By Jon Dale

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