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Jatoma - Jatoma



Synthesizers: I love them in all shapes and sizes, all amplitudes and frequencies, all cadences and rhythms. No instrument in the history of humankind has so much untapped potential, or offers so many unique avenues for composers and musicians to explore. Yet despite this great potential, the synthesizer in contemporary dance music is often a tool for evil. You need not go far to find its transgressions against all that’s holy and good—a simple perusal of the charts will do. Electronic dance music is filled to the brim with obvious synth stabs, clichéd synth leads and tired arpeggios. So it’s a real joy when an album comes my way that celebrates the unambiguous joy of the synthesizer and all its various knobs and sliders.

Or wait: is that really the case? Jatoma is, as I can best establish, a shadowy cabal of three Danish producers, two of whom are teenagers. They claim to derive most of their sounds from things like “cutting carrots, pouring cereals, handclaps, drums, human voices - even guitar,” with an end result sounding like a meld of synthesizer programming. Is this true? It appears to be, at times. But at others…well, let’s just say some misdirection may be in the cards.

Either way, Kompakt’s new supergroup has given us something really special here: a playful, inventive album of real songs with real emotional depth and real progression. Oh, and it’s got a tropical theme! Before you go making assumptions, let me tell you that this isn’t headphones-and-square-glasses IDM; this is proper house and techno music, pulled apart and reassembled with entirely new parts and flavors—the sonic version of molecular gastronomy.

The album begins with the stunning “Little Houseboat.” I have to admit, this song is driving me mad—where have I heard that melody before? It sounds so reassuringly familiar, like something I’ve lived with all my life, yet at the same time, like nothing I’ve ever encountered, a mesmerizing hypnosis of modulating synths, suggesting all kinds of things yet imitating none of them. The playful “Manipura” follows, a reference to India’s “city of jewels” and third primary chakra. The track, fittingly, brings the euphoria of acid house to mind (while sounding nothing like it).

“Dust in Wong” proves there are, in fact, guitars on hand. This pensive, off-meter selection is a swirl of modulation, as sounds are literally stretched apart and put back together. I had high hopes for “Alang Beach,” a reference to one of the world’s most famous ship graveyards. Unfortunately, this is one of the album’s low water marks—a missed opportunity to reconstruct the somber creepiness of the setting. “Durian” solid fun, but not my favorite moment—though I guess it’s probably better that Jatoma avoided a literal interpretation of the malodorous “king of fruits.”

But then we come to the soaring, exquisite “Wood Face.” This is the kind of track that gives me faith in electronic dance music—melodic yet well edited, energetic yet thoughtful, instrumental yet deeply emotional. It’s over far too quickly. The more doctrinaire techno of “Bou” keeps up the good work—aided by a massive synth bass and subtly off-meter rhythm. Then it goes full on into warp mode, and your head explodes. Another high point, “Paper Lights,” feels like a deconstruction of French electro-house into constituent cubes of jelly. “Helix” does much the same thing to Chicago house. The album ends with the mercurial “Luvdisc,” which I can best describe as sounding like Jay Denham on something much stronger than acid.

Occasional missteps aside, in terms of sophistication, ambition and execution, this album is simply light-years beyond anything else I’ve heard in 2011. To put it another way, it’s the kind of album that makes you feel silly for liking other albums. Too early for “best of the year,” is it?

Gustav Brown


Gustav Brown enthuses over Jatoma’s debut album on Kompakt.

Reader Comments (1)

a great review !
like any truly-useful music critic, Brown is able to both enthuse and criticise, which gives the reader a sense that one is neither reading alienating fan-boy comment nor the words of a snobbish, trend-obsessed elitist, but, rather, the wiritng of someone actually in love with good music, and keen to share that passion.

Little Houseboat is lovely and personally it reminds me of Underworld's 'Glam Bucket', or Jon Hopkins. But then I am rather mainstream ;)

May 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradam

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