- Smallville Records has spent the last four years building itself into purveyors of some of house music's most diaphanous and mesmerizing revelations. Lawrence and Julius Steinhoff, the duo behind the imprint, have used the Hamburg label for some of their own creations—Steinhoff with partner Abdeslam Hammouda and Lawrence under his Sten alias—but it's perhaps two releases over the past year or so that have raised the stakes: The sinuous, circuitous depths of Move D and Benjamin Brunn's excellent Songs for the Beehive, and the bumpy drone-house of STL's Silent State 12-inch this spring. Where often tracks of such sonic intricacy sound belabored or stuffy, Smallville's best stuff is always full of breath, deceptively immense.
Featuring artwork by Stefan Marx—who's responsible for the art for every one of their releases—and issued both as four 12-inches and a CD, the expertly-titled And Suddenly It's Morning arrives just in time for the slow seasonal crawl to a time of fading light, leafy strolls and cool gusty winds. With a tracklist loaded with both Smallville mainstays and a few newcomers, the comp focuses on precisely the kind of patient and delicate Bloody Mary-morning triumphs for which Smallville's made its name. These are set-up songs, tracks for introduction and ease, for either the earliest or the very latest times when the heart's still calm.
New to the label, Christopher Rau's "Childhood," for example, slides warm, cerebral synths under buried samples and a muscular house beat, and Steinhoff & Hammouda's "Touch"—with newbie Dionne providing the vocals—builds echoing samples and toy synthesizer chords into a funky, churning romp that owes its success to the mannered way its layers stack as it summits. Likewise, Lawrence's own contribution, "Don't Forget" is cozy, evocative music for the snowed-in, with its twinkly tones and muted synth glow.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the compilation's two real standouts are those by aforementioned acts that have helped build Smallville's reputation over the last couple of years. Move D & Benjamin Brunn's "In the Beginning" centers around a compact strobe groove, with another of the duo's patented melodic whorls beneath swipes of brief, fleeting noise. It's a tight, locomotive composition, and one of the album's most immediately demented offerings. Similarly propulsive and over ten minutes long, STL's "Neurotransmitting Clouds on the Secret Freeway" begins as a hip-wiggling grind before smudges of swirling melody arise like little flashes of color against its rhythmic back.
Dissonance begins to grate, and distortion crackles as the track gains pace and volume, exemplifying Smallville's tastes for music where it's hard to tell if something's being unraveled or augmented as you listen. Fittingly, it serves as And Suddenly It's Morning's closer. Barring a few slight missteps—both the bump-in-the-night house of Lowtec's "Meandyou.dub" and Sven Tasnadi's Lawrence-aping "Winter" feel a bit malnourished—Smallville's first compilation is a success, and a telling reminder of how the Hamburg gang secured our affection in the first place.
01. Julius Steinhoff - Something Like Wonderful
02. Christopher Rau - Childhood
03. Lowtec - meandyou.dub
04. Steinhoff & Hammouda with Dionne - Touch
05. Move D & Benjamin Brunn - In the Beginning
06. Sven Tasnadi - Winter
07. Bon & Rau - Cloverleaf Days
08. Lawrence - Don't Forget
09. Dimi Angelis & Jeroen Search - Our Live With The Wave
10. STL - Neurotransmitting Clouds on the Secret Freeway