- Picture the scene. You’ve spent the last eight or so years as the most recognisable figureheads of an organisation that’s still regarded as an archetypal minimal techno behemoth, despite your best efforts to branch away from the tag. You’ve watched, at first hand, the subgenre’s progression from the furthest fringes of dance music (Kompakt was set up, in part, because Mayer and co’s distributor at the time didn’t believe there was a market for their sound) to a lumpen, saturated beast, a soundtrack to the glammed-up posing of supermarket sheep clubbers who pay significantly more attention to their brand of sunglasses and the angularity of their hairstyles than the quality of music they’re dancing to. What to do? What’s left to prove in a scene that, regardless of its popularity, is continually derided by even its most acclaimed proponents for its relentless sense of functionality, of whacked-out intoxication, of infinitely plagiaristic vacuity? If you’re Axel ‘Super’ Schaufler and Michael ‘Mayer’ Mayer, you make an album that references Italo, punk-funk, ambient, NY house, Detroit, electro-pop, and a touch of medieval folk music, that’s what. In fact, you reference pretty much everything you can think of, except for the conventional minimal techno sound that you helped make famous. Genius idea. Or is it?
It’s fair to say that Supermayer’s highly anticipated ‘concept’ (ugh) opus is set to be a divisive album. Right off the bat, anyone who’s looking for 13 tracks of DJ-friendly, Cologne-style clubbiness will be sorely disappointed. Actually, anyone who’s looking for a considered, intelligent, sophisticated electronic workout probably will be, too. But for the 98% of the population who don’t give a shit about ‘high production values’ or ‘cutting-edge sound design’, this is the album that completes Kompakt’s evolution into the bona fide independent pop label it always longed to be.
Intro snippet ‘Hey’ sets the tone with a nursery-melody and a comically ominous vocal, a neat metaphor for the album’s pervasive, oxymoronic blend of childish naivety and industrial heaviness. It’s a feeling that continues through the slap-happy fun of ‘The Art Of Letting Go’, where Axel Schaufler’s not-really-in-tune vocals are endearing and obtuse in equal measure, and on into ‘Saturndays’, a searing, overblown pumper more in line with Mayer’s usual techno-drama. ‘Us and Them’ is a bow-legged ska-no quacker that, again, will upset those with an aversion to daft noises – Madness meets the LCD Soundsystem, perhaps – while the teary-eyed, archaic campfire strum of ‘The Lonely King’, notwithstanding its air of ridiculousness, is a strangely touching lament, and certainly unique in its field.
From here, the album turns its attention more closely to the four-four pulse of the dancefloor, but again, with mixed, occasionally antagonistic results. ‘Please Sunrise’ is an chirpy, piano-led disco shuffle, taking its cue from Lindstrom, Terje et al but failing to replicate the Norwegians’ beguiling melodic charms with much conviction. ‘Planet Of The Sick’ is a tad disappointing too, its spiky, Detroit-ish chord pattern rasping unpleasantly atop a pernickety, directionless groove. Those recurrent comedy-horror processed vocals don’t help much, either.
Happily, the album’s closing tracks just about make up for the shortcomings. ‘Two Of Us’ is the rave monster that fans will have been holding out for, its brutal, surging noisiness the true sound of the pair at their wild, wantonly apocalyptic best. Tellingly, it’s the most typically ‘Kompakt’ track here, and may prove a source of frustration to many fans – couldn’t they have done a load of tracks like this instead of all that conceptual nonsense?
The answer is yes, of course they could. But whether you like it or not, Supermayer have clearly decided to force themselves out of the minimal mould here. Indeed, to conform entirely to their fans’ expectations would have ultimately put them back in the perfunctory category of artists described at the start of this review. My own reaction to the album – like others, it seems – was initially pretty negative, but following a summer of hearing it creep up all over the place, it’s somehow grown on me, offering numerous previously ignored charms each time I hear it again. Like a new acquaintance who seems a bit weird and irritating at first, ‘Save The World’ slowly reveals its warm-heartedness over time, and ends up being one of your good buddies – although not necessarily one you can truly love.
2 The Art Of Letting Go
4 Superbrain Transmission
5 Us And Them
6 For Luzie
7 The Lonesome King
8 Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying
9 Please Sunrise
10 Planet Of The Sick
11 Psychoprogs Attack
12 Two Of Us
13 Cocktails For Two