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Isolée - Well Spent Youth


Pampa Records

If one were to compare music to physical entities, then Rajko Müller’s efforts would be something akin to a fragile, faintly psychedelic bird. His songs have a frail and ornate feel to them that recalls the dainty splendour of a peacock or the faint ephemeral buzz of a hummingbird. The beats and synth lines dart about, both gracefully and in a haphazard manner, leading the listener up blind alleys or cul-de-sacs. Müller, like a bird eluding the clumsy grasp of a less mobile predator, always tries to evade whatever tag is applied to his music.

Naturally, when you’ve written one of the finest house records ever made relatively early in your career, that can often have an unfortunate effect on what you make next. It is eternally to Müllerr’s credit that he avoided that with diligence, following it up instead with equally outstanding records such as “Brazil” and “Schrapnell”.  He is one of the great originals of the genre.

With only his third album in just over a decade and just under six years after the splendour of “We are Monster” sees the release of Well Spent Youth.  Like the other two proceeding it, the album is an individual affair – there are very few, if any musicians within the same field that construct their compositions with such due care. He carefully eschews most of the standard motifs that we hear all too often in dance music, instead weaving a tapestry of atonal washes, bass plucks and oscillating hums into a collection of eleven tracks.

Those who follow Müller’s music with interest will know that his style and ideas have become more and more abstract in the last couple of years. Recent remixes have been remarkably strange, if not a little on the dull side at times compared to the sheer colour of his earlier style. Artists have to evolve naturally – the best don’t keep coming up with the same idea all the time – but it’s not hard to listen to Well Spent Youth without feeling that some of the tracks here are intentionally difficult to follow. There are highs, but on many occasions Müller’s music bubbles and boils without expanding or indeed constricting. It’s a long album at over an hour and could have been reduced to say, 7 or 8 songs for a more nourishing experience.

Paloma Trieste” which opens proceedings, starts where We are Monster left off, keeping many of the ambiguous melodic ideas from that album with off-key melodic lines featuring prominently.  “Thirteen Times an Hour” is much more uptempo, but it’s disappointing in its normality – it sounds like something Dave Moufang might chuck out on one of his offdays and despite the key change towards the end, fails to excite. The same goes for recent single “Taktell”, which shows promise with its densely packed sounds and grooves, but ultimately can’t quite decide where to go.

Matters veer off the dancefloor after a while in the middle and that’s where the album does pick up. Always one for throwing you off-balance with a surprise, his “Going Nowhere” is a mysterious number, keeping the suspense high with persistently atonal bleeps propelling it along before mutating into what I can only phrase as a lament. 

If there’s one great track on the album, it’s the shimmering “Hold On”.  Pulled along by a succulent melody, like everything else here it’s understated and the insectoid percussion that adorns it gives it a particular verve. Müller is keen here to add or decorate a lot of sound all over the album and it’s rare that you have time to concentrate on what he’s doing before a whisper of strange noise or distant samples disorientate you.  The final track “Lost Country” takes this idea to completion, providing a suitably elegant finale with a melody of sustained chords that waft in and out of a chorus of crackles, whistles and drones.

It is difficult to know where Müller is taking you with a lot of his music. In fact I suspect that sometimes he doesn’t either and that is part of his charm. Not one to pander to commercialism, this album is another in the tradition of his previous two, leaving you slightly bemused and at the same time eager to try and break the intriguing sonic code that he scrambles much of his music with. It’s not without its faults though, with several of the tracks less than substantial and the feeling that, “Hold On” apart, there isn’t more than one truly great track on here that enriches the experience.

Well Spent Youth is an album that will most likely leave newcomers to his material none the wiser whilst initiates, not entirely satisfied, will have something to chew over during the long wait for the next one. 


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