- The German duo go downtempo. Is it a success?
- With the release of Listen To Your Heart, Session Victim's last album, a feeling had begun to creep in that something might need to change for the German duo. "When you're drenched in this kind of glitterball radiance," said Bruce Tantum, "it's hard for anything to stand out." The problem wasn't necessarily that Hauke Freer and Matthias Reiling weren't hitting their intended notes. Across three albums they'd become masters at their preferred style of sample-rich, laidback house music. It was more that, by that point, almost ten years of exploring these moods had blunted their impact a little. I don't know if this is something Freer and Reiling felt themselves, but on Needledrop, their new LP for Night Time Stories, they've decided to shake things up.
We get some house music here, but for the most part Needledrop is a downtempo album, apparently inspired by '90s icons like Nightmares On Wax, DJ Shadow and Portishead. As an act who, like their inspirations, dig for samples and have dabbled in downtempo styles before, this move makes lots of sense for Session Victim. The vibe on Needledrop isn't so much a departure from their previous work, with a kind of earthy warmth that can be traced back to decades-old soul and jazz, but it arrives in fresh home-listening forms. The mostly three- or four-minute run times emphasises the record's focus on songs, not tracks. The album format has always suited Session Victim, and this is especially true of Needledrop.
Summer sun, weed, BBQs, an ocean breeze and comfy lounge chairs are a few of the images that may come to mind here. "Bad Weather Mates," "Needledrop" and "Cold Chills" (all, to be honest, misleading titles) reach almost Roy Ayers levels of humidity, tracks that range in tempo but are united by a desire to chill as hard as possible. Freer and Reiling's use of live instrumentation alongside samples is better and more prominent than ever. So on "No Sky, Blue Sound," stand by for a guitar solo. The steady-rolling "Isle Of Taste" features piano, flute and sax. And is that a marimba at the end of "Glimmer"? Freer and Reiling create a musical environment in which the tone and timbre of many different instruments fit comfortably.
"Comfortable" is actually a relevant word there, as it highlights both the album's strengths and its nagging weakness. As Needledrop progresses, its willingness to work in the slipstream of long-established styles comes to make it feel like a tribute project rather than a development or reappraisal of old ideas. Beth Hirsch, the memorable voice of Air's "All I Need," appears on "Made Me Fly." It's a slick three minutes of smoky instrumentation and vocals, but it reminded me of how acts like Air, Portishead, Nightmares On Wax and DJ Shadow each had something new to say about the sounds that inspired them.
It isn't as clear what frame of mind "Jazzbeat 7" is in—which is exactly why it's welcome on Needledrop as a moment of obscurity or intrigue. However, getting too caught up in this line of thinking would detract from what Freer and Reiling have achieved. They continue to bring a sense of style and musicality that's uncommon among similar house music acts. Transposing the essence of what they do to a range of new tempos and rhythms is admirable. For this reason alone, Needledrop should be considered a success.
01. Bad Weather Mates
02. The Pain
03. Made Me Fly feat. Beth Hirsch
04. Jazzbeat 7
05. No Sky, Blue Sound
06. Waller And Pierce
08. Isle Of Taste
09. Cold Chills
10. Still High