- Knock Knock, the new album from DJ Koze, opens with a wail. It's discordant at first, but only for a moment. Angelic vocals swoop in to dominate the mix, giving a rush of the heavenly energy that's been so central to the DJ Koze sound. The genius of Stefan Kozalla is that he can sound euphoric one minute and heartbroken the next. Moods across Knock Knock shift quickly, from melancholy to blissful and back again, sometimes within the same track. The emotional range is remarkable, but that's nothing new for the German artist. His latest LP finds him leaving the dance floor further behind than ever.
The Koze style, more than a tempo or rhythm, is about a feeling you can't quite put your finger on. Those bittersweet moods, manifested in the delicate tones he spends hours tweaking in his Hamburg studio, are amplified by vocals, which on Knock Knock comes from names such as José González, Róisín Murphy, Kurt Wagner and the Pampa Records artist Sophia Kennedy. Even Koze adds a few short "hey"s in the opening minutes, as if welcoming us with a wink and reminding us that, beneath it all, he's still a goofy guy who makes promo videos while shirtless on the beach.
Sometimes abstract (González on "Music On My Teeth," Bon Iver on "Bonfire") and other times crystal clear (Kennedy on "This Is My Rock," Murphy on "Illumination"), these vocals can enhance or contradict the mood of the music, and occasionally they do both. On"Bonfire" they make a minimal techno beat introspective. On the other hand, Gladys Knight's half-sung lyrics on "Pick Up" flood an otherwise ecstatic track with despair. As one of the only bonafide club tunes, "Pick Up"'s thumping disco house is Knock Knock at its simplest. But, as usual, nothing is straightforward, the emphasis switching between the sunny disco chords and Knight's melancholy vocal.
The ability to produce ambiguous moods is a mark of a gifted producer, and one that's rarely heard in electronic music. "The mood of house music is really limited," Kozalla recently told me. "It was sensational for me at first, but I soon began to hear more emotions in, for example, folk music. Why do we have to stick to two house chords?" By shedding conventional club music structures, Koze broadens the range of moods he's able to get across.
Even though Knock Knock has little to do with the club, it's still electronic music. Knock Knock is a blend of house, hip-hop and folk that avoids the conventional chords of, say, pop or indie. Like the wailing tone that opens the album, the sounds on which the album is built are often atonal or detuned, either made from samples treated beyond recognition or pulled from Koze's small collection of synthesisers. This approach reflects a strength of electronic music, where abstract tones can evoke intense emotions. It probably wasn't hard for Koze to look beyond house, because it never completely won him over. Knock Knock makes a case for others to do it as well.
01. Club Der Ewigkeiten
02. Bonfire feat. Bon Iver
03. Moving In A Liquid feat. Eddie Fummler
04. Colors Of Autumn feat. Speech
05. Music On My Teeth feat. José González
06. This Is My Rock feat. Sophia Kennedy
07. Illumination feat. Róisín Murphy
08. Pick Up
09. Planet Hase feat. Mano Le Tough
10. Scratch That feat. Róisín Murphy
11. Muddy Funster feat. Kurt Wagner
12. Baby (How Much I LFO You)
14. Lord Knows
15. Seeing Aliens
16. Drone Me Up, Flashy feat. Sophia Kennedy