- Stylish innovations from the Ilian Tape star.
- Skee Mask's third LP on Ilian Tape, the 18-track Pool, seems to be the result of pent-up energy, a natural response to a year of lockdown. Genre-melding and creatively unbridled, it's both taut and explosive. The record roams the full range of the breakbeat spectrum like a wild animal let loose from its cage. To even assign it a genre feels limiting. As with so much of Bryan Müller's work in recent years, Pool wanders into experimental, hybrid spaces. The LP meets the high expectations set by his 2018 tour de force Compro, but it's difficult to compare the two. For one, Pool isn't as meticulously arranged, mostly due to its sheer volume and the breadth of its vision. It's long, maybe even too long for some, yet the album sustains its power through balance: every raw edge or blown-out kick is methodically balanced out by an equal number of ethereal, emotive elements. With Pool, the Bavarian producer reaches an apex that resembles a dreamy fever pitch.
Pool synthesizes many of the signature ingredients we've seen in Skee Mask's work over the years, specifically the broken rhythms and precise sound design that set his tracks apart. The opening track, "Nvivo," and "LFO," which follows shortly after, are subtle standouts in which atmospheric tones and buried basslines build quiet tension. Cuts like "Rdvnedub" and "Breathing Method" invoke the breakbeat rhythms that have come to define Ilian Tape's sound, and are stylistically close to some of Skee Mask's early releases, like Shred. On the flip side, others moments bring to mind the unhinged creativity of early Skee Mask material like "Kozmic Flush" off Compro. For example, on "Testo BC Mashup," ambient pads drip like water over a ruthless drum & bass rhythm. Another standout is "DJ Camo Bro," in which fluttering arpeggiation—as fast as a hummingbird flapping its wings—acts as both the melody and rhythm. This constant play between hard and soft, chaos and finesse, is a central theme of Pool, a juxtaposition that provides a dynamic and compelling tension.
As with many of Müller's releases, Pool blends the weird and the elegant with remarkable attention to detail. Though the album is less refined than Compro, Pool is speckled with nuanced surprises, like the occasional infusion of jazz and funk, or sudden shifts into half-time rhythms. Just when our bodies and brains feel like they might explode from a surfeit of deftly programmed percussion, Skee Mask drops "Ozone" at the halfway mark, an ambient arrangement that acts as the album's intermission and reset before building up its restrained force again.
Pool showcases Skee Mask's distinctive originality, which is often marked by unexpected departures from the norm. (This applies formally, and also to the album's method of release. Müller dropped Pool unannounced and has withheld the record from streaming services.) Sonically speaking, the baritone sax of "Collapse Casual" marks one of many unexpected jazz-tinged moments on the album. He also eschews a consistent tempo. Much of Pool skews faster than previous releases, and at times, tightly wound rhythms enter the 170-plus BPM territory. Though certain tracks would be surefire additions to any late-night set, for the most part, Pool's goal isn't to make people dance, opting instead for a more cerebral approach.
But Müller's work is rarely just brain candy; hyper-infectious rhythms and effusive melody keep us tethered to the physical realm. Pool doesn't sacrifice fun for headiness either. In fact, while Skee Mask's previous LPs were no doubt inventive, I'd argue Pool is the most playful of his releases. You can hear this in moments of stylish risk-taking, like the wonky, funk-laced melody of "Crosssection" and the over-the-top guitar solo on "Harrison Ford." With Pool, there's a sense that Skee Mask is exploring the outer limits of a sound that was already subtly innovative. As a result, it makes for a varied, rewarding listen, a portrait of a techno artist in his prime.
02. Stone Cold 369
05. CZ3000 Dub
06. DJ Camo Bro
07. Collapse Casual
08. Breathing Method
10. Rio Dub
11. Testo BC Mashup
12. Dolan Tours
16. Harrison Ford
17. Pepper Boys