- Anja Schneider's ‘Belize’ from last year was one of those moments when a fairly standard sounding techno track lifts off, spinning away from its recognisable elements into pure ecstasy. The canny melodies and detailed textures managed to transcend the bleep and bongo aesthetic, and something which started out as any-mnml ended up being memorable. This then was the challenge for Beyond the Valley: to defy her roots in tracky modern tech house and present us with something that was remarkable and playable at home.
So it was with a sinking heart then that I turned the album on and listened to ‘Safari’. It's a track that screams "set opener," but without something mixing in, the melodies wander and the vectors never resolve. But where ‘Safari’ misses, ‘Mole’ hits: Again it’s built from a recognisable sound palette, but the impassioned synth sighs and answering harpsichord strums egg on the track's bass and build towards something memorable. It is all understated, but eventually you appreciate the way everything coheres. Indeed, this is one of the strengths of the album: what actually seems like indecision at the beginning of a track is revealed to be a masterplan by the end. ‘Maki’ slowly levitates, lifting first one foot off the ground and then the other before a folk-y sample is set in opposition to reverbed clanks, yet by the end both elements are working together for the happiness of dancers.
And it is dancers Anja is aiming at here; there are few concessions to home listening. Unlike, say False’s 2007, the collection is unmixed, and there's none of the club experimentation of Bruno Pronsato’s Why Can't We Be Like Us. The first part of the collection has an excellent flow though; it’s not unlike your standard DJ set. The album falls away from the early peak of ‘Mole’ before eventually climbing out of the depths again with ‘Belize’. After this, however, it's hard not to feel that the album loses its way a little. ‘Get Away’ has a nice enough analogue squelch to it, and some good chords, but it shares an aimlessness with ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ that is disappointing. Just when you think the whole set is going to come together in one final hurrah, it fizzles out.
Taken individually, many of the tracks here are interesting due to their deftness of melody, construction and utility. Schneider understands exactly what makes dancers tick these days, and how to make tracks that will stand out in those dancers' minds at the end of the night. Taken as an exercise in home listening though, the album is not quite as successful its component parts.
04 Beyond The Valley
08 Get Away
09 Little Red Riding Hood
10 Fish At Night