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Artist: Köhn

Album: Koen

Label: (K-raa-k)3

Review date: Aug. 8, 2002

If given enough time and money, most musicians will succumb to the perverse temptations of that most hideous beast of a career-killer: excess. Just watch VH1 for about an hour on a Saturday and an episode of Behind The Music (or an entire marathon) is bound to pop up at some point. This will then allow you to watch in great detail how Mötley Crüe drank and drugged themselves nearly to death (or in Nikki Sixx’s case, to death and then back to life), how MC Hammer spent himself into bankruptcy, or Journey…well, I always fell alseep during that one, I can’t really say what happened to them. All I know is that Steve Perry ain’t in the band anymore. But anyway, it seems like a natural thing for a musician to do at some point, to give in to excess. And among the ranks of the most excessive of behaviors, nestled somewhere between snorting coke from a stripper’s tits and playing drum solos while flying upside down rests a rather tricky devil – the double album.

Now, there was a time when a double album wasn’t such a daunting proposal. This, of course, was back in the purely analogue age when I wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye. The longest an album aspired to be was four full-length sides of vinyl (with exceptions, of course) – the double long player. But then, much to Steve Albini’s chagrin, everyone went all digital on our asses and all of sudden you could cram at least seventy-four minutes worth of music on to a single compact disc. It got to the point where everyone started upping the filler to killer ratio on discs for the sake of having a higher playing time read off when the disc started up – more bang for the buck, one would suppose. Then it got to the point where having nearly twice the length of a conventional record on a CD wasn’t good enough, and people had to go way overboard and start making double CDs. The list of guilty parties is lengthy and diverse, to say the least – the Smashing Pumpkins, Wu-Tang Clan, The Notorious B.I.G., and even Aphex Twin gave in to the idea. All of them at some point crushed that inner voice inside their head that said “Whoa…no one really needs all those dippy piano interludes” or “Seriously, the biggest rock band in the world trying to go electronic sounds kind of lame” and went ahead with the unthinkable. This of course resulted in what I’ve been getting at all along: lame-o, masturbatory records that nestled a bunch of pearls amidst a veritable pig farm of swine. So where oh where does Köhn fit into this entire rant? Simple – his latest offering, Koen, is a double-disc monster whose 27 tracks clock in at close to one hundred and forty solid minutes of experimental electronic insanity.

Right, so based on everything I just raved about, you are most likely expecting me to dispense with the pleasantries and dismiss this album in the same way that I would drop, say, the last three Smashing Pumpkins albums. But then you’d be wrong. Is Koen a prime example of an excessive double album? Yes it is. But is it still worthy of checking out? Most assuredly. See, where most artists would be content to merely drop two discs worth of crap on an unsuspecting public and cast their vote firmly in favor of the “quantity” side of the old debate, Köhn bypassed all of this and actually released a solid album. Granted it’s entirely too long and difficult to listen to all in one shot, but it will leave you with gems for weeks to come. And rather than use this as a forum to explore ideas that should be left uncharted, Köhn dishes out the goods: solid bit-mining and beat-making mixed with a hefty dose of experimental noise and ambient pieces. And with that, we’re off to the highlight reel.

Disc one builds its first two tracks slowly, with “twal siree” relying on patches of manipulated acoustic guitar and some mini-disc musings that gradually build into an ambient cloud of tones, while “hahver” sounds like Oval on a less confrontational day, gleefully weaving skips and tones in and around each other. “Wabbit regghae”, however, is a bird of a much different feather. Köhn appropriates a bastardized dancehall rhythm, tweaked suitably for the laptop set, and then laces it with a deep, distorted, piercing bassline. Tracks like “ausfahrt : ollbahrt”, “niplohn, dedzu !”, and “Mixomatosis” mine similar drony/ambient territory to great effect, while cuts like “marse” revel in the same playful electronic madness of acts like Mouse on Mars. The hard beats return for the wicked romp of “Sankt-Almost”, a track that kind of sounds like Merzbow gone hip hop. “Mohronn” seems like another nod towards Oval, only with more of an emphasis on the finished sound and not the actual process. “Plohs” goes back more along the lines of the disc’s opening piece, using subtle guitar phrases as the groundwork for constant revolutions of undulating textures and noises.

Disc two clocks in at roughly the same length as the first, but with a few less tracks. The pieces here are more exploratory, more fully formed ideas and compositions than the initial half-set. The opener, “Vlaamsche Rohs”, is all tension with little release. With powerful drones whirring away in the background, Köhn builds an uneasy beat before ditching it in favor of ambient madness, before returning to the beats once again, adding subtle vocals to the mix before gracefully fading out. This is far and away one of the best pieces of music on the whole set, both compelling and uneasy, ultimately wholly satisfying in its collision of constituent parts. “Fahrt” returns to more glitched-out ambient madness, while “ohrosong” plumes the depths of treated acoustics and manipulated vocals to make for a submerged master of a track. “Konohn” is another beat-filled romp that is too brief at just over two minutes. “Klohrgohr” tosses a graceful melody underwater and into a blender, thus resulting in a fine piece along the lines of more recent Fennesz material. “Langoorn” is the key focal point here, a sixteen minute monster that combines bits of everything Köhn had tested elsewhere on the album: bits of drony minimlism, quiet melody, and subtle but steady beat-making that result in a difficult but engaging and breathtaking piece of music. The album finally closes on an uplifting note with the oddly titled “Köhn’s death”. It sounds almost like a funeral dirge, but with a gracefully melody that comes from carefully sampled strings that slowly bob and weave throughout the track. This is all before Köhn manipulates the hell out of its surroundings with his trademark oddball bursts of noise and muted samples.

Köhn indeed upped the ante for himself on this, his third release. The only major problem with the record is that it tends to sound a bit schizophrenic at times, jumping from one style to the next without so much as a stylistic flinch. Indeed, it does almost sound like the work of multiple artists pursuing one strange but elusive goal. In the end, it’s almost impossible to take it all in unless you’re doing so in multiple sittings. And, as with almost any other double album, there are the inevitable filler tracks that pop up (although these are mostly on the first disc). When all is said and done, however, it’s a joy to hear an artist reach like Köhn does. Utilizing multiple styles and voices, he’s created a record full of creative and daring pieces of music. Excessive? Yes, but not in that sad pathetic rock star way. Rather, it’s excessive in the way good art should be – rough around the edges but full of great ideas that deserve attention, and even better ideas that come to blissful fruition.

By Michael Crumsho

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