- A dance floor album that can't help but be different.
- On his fifth album, STS371, the UK-born artist Matt Karmil makes an attempt to tame the wild horse that is his output. This metaphor actually only works up to a point. Yes, Karmil's music could be considered erratic. He's released house, ambient, techno, downtempo and plenty of other sounds, sometimes within the same album. But words like "wild" or "erratic" aren't such a good fit for the smudged prettiness that has tied much of his output together. "I think in many ways my sound is still quite wide, and that’s both a bit of a curse and a bit of a blessing," he told RBMA Radio in 2017, voicing a concern that the diversity of his style might lose some people. Will, the album he released the following year on Smalltown Supersound, was perhaps an attempt to address this. It glided between Kompakt-style ambient and house but had noticeable coherency, like it was cut from a single, inspired recording session.
STS371 picks up Karmil's path towards a more easily defined style, although I can't help but affectionately chuckle at what he lands on. Even when he's writing what's pretty much a straight-up dance floor record, Karmil is naturally drawn to variety. The moods here are often reminiscent of his past work, but they're given dance floor refits of varying tempos and rhythms, some of which are new looks for him. We get, on the one hand, examples of the shimmering-but-scuffed house music that made him a great fit for releases on Studio Barnhus and Aus. "Smoke," for instance, opens the record with a dialogue between a wandering bassline and what could be a guitar chord, with Karmil creating real buoyancy through this straightforward interaction. "Hard," "Breezy" and "210" are also of this ilk. "210," a sedated roller, is slightly forgettable, which is unfortunate as it closes the album. But "Hard" and "Breezy" are both classically Karmil, revelling in the fusion of rich, filtered melodies and crisp, punchy beats.
Then there are the more daring and/or surprising moves, which for me elevate the album as a whole. Karmil has worked around techno tempos before—and you could argue that lots of his material is slightly more techno than house—but here he fully leans into it. "Still Not French" tickles 150 BPM and sounds invigorated for it, as one of the record's sweetest melodies matches with a galloping drum machine. The other full-bore techno track, "SR/WB," further illustrates that Karmil is often at his best when he's at his most frugal. Other tracks avoid such clear expressions. "Snail Shower," "PB" and "Congo" all raise questions like, "Is this thing in two different tempos?" and "Is he into footwork?" Granted, these might not be questions some listeners fancy dealing with. But they should excite those of us who have now followed Karmil through the release of five very strong albums.
03. Snail Shower
05. Still Not French