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V/A - Famous When Dead IV

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Artist: V/A

Album: Famous When Dead IV

Label: Playhouse

Review date: Nov. 6, 2005

Writing in Spring 2004 on the third installment of the Playhouse label’s semi-regular progress report, Dusted’s Jon Dale suggested the reason why this Berlin label does not receive the same kind of praise as fellow Teutonic stables of definitive dance music like Areal, Kompakt and Perlon is perhaps because, in his words, Playhouse is not nearly as “reliable.” This argument unfortunately still holds true for this year’s Famous When Dead IV, an amorphous, splotchy mass that nonetheless has a lot to offer.

The two-track lead-in hardly serves as a kickoff - it's a stilted, cumbersome ten minutes that belong, at best, tucked in the middle somewhere instead of at the head. First, the title track from Recloose’s Cardiology is pumped and screwed by an Isolée remix that, despite much acclaim, seems nothing more than a turd-encrusted diamond. Even worse, though, is Captain Comatose’s “Up In Flames,” the nth permutation of a camp sensibility long deprived of humor, invention and the slightest hint of transgression even before the Electroclash devolution. What delight then to have Spektrum’s “Kinda New (Tiefschwarz Dub)” next, arguably the banner dance floor anthem of 2004 and still damn vigorous this late in 2005. Even though it's available elsewhere, notably Tiefschwarz’s own Misch Masch from some months back, it's a perfect alternate entry point to Famous When Dead IV, a flawless detonation of meaty Korg zooms and dry disco rhythm. No matter how it’s listened to – from headphone-addled walk to apartment chore soundtrack – the track always evokes midnight, strobe-lit ecstasy.

From here, there’s Villalobos’ “Dexter” stripped down and outputted by Two Lone Swordsmen as a Faith-gray Cure demo. A few hiccups aside - Fabrice Lig’s wallpaper funkadelica on “Meet U In Brooklyn” and Losoul’s tense yet tacky “You Know” – Famous When Dead IV soon reaches a fierce cruising altitude that is expertly maintained for the remaining six tracks. From his rightly drooled over We Are Monster LP, Isolée’s “Schrapnell” is a blissful blast of gooey synths and computer blue guitars. “Klatta” from My My, all clipped, micro stutters and elastic bass, could have easily fit on Akufen’s fine Fabric mix. Also building up from nano bits, John Tejada & Arian Leviste deliver the gurgling “Geriatrics.” On “Old Song,” Max Mohr perfects tubeway wintriness – distant trebly clusters like outgoing trains or the rumble of city life heard as crackle by subterranean ears - with the occasional Mantronix’d staccato. Aside from its piston precision, Lindstrøm’s “I Feel Space” floats in zero gravity amid comets’ crystal sediments, Theremin plumes and Telstar trails. Ushering the exit, Rework offers “Think It’s Too Late,” a bit of somber laptop pop with bedroom eyes.

Forget consistency, Famous When Dead IV is vivid bricolage proving Playhouse at least lives up to its name. Rather than a realm of aerodynamic calibration – for that there's always Kompakt – Playhouse is a space for, well, play. Games of chance and amusement - some genuinely fun, though others are mirthless mediocrities. Maybe best imagined as a modular theme park, Playhouse is always worth a visit.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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