TENDER LEAF (Mirau)
Tim Keiling – better known as Erdbeerschnitzel (‘strawberry schnitzel’) – had a hugely successful 2010. Releases on 3rd Strike, 4 Lux and Mirau introduced us to his densely-textured, and slightly zany, broken beat based approach to mid-tempo and slower house music, garnering favourable reviews from more or less everyone. Now, in 2012, and having completed his studies at the University of Mainz, the man from Mittelfischbach has produced an album that should see him gather ever more gleaming reviews.
We should start by stressing how difficult it is to produce a good album of ‘dance’ music. This is partly because, these days, whole albums (of whatever genre) are rarely what ‘the consumer’ wants. The digital revolution in music allowed consumers to cherry-pick their favourite tracks from albums and ignore the rest, leading some commentators to pronounce, in lugubrious tones, ‘The Death of the Album’. But the main reason why good dance music albums are rare is because this music doesn’t suit the format. Albums are for home-listening, dance music for the dance floor. An obvious point, maybe, but one worth emphasising.
All the more impressive, then, that Keiling has pulled it off.
Tender Leaf begins with Hello, a lilting, soothing pillow of a song that eases the listener into the rest of the album. It’s got sampled, chopped and modulated vocal snippets (a favourite ‘instrument’ of Keiling’s), a low-pitched, funky bass-line, shimmering cymbals and heavily cut-up percussion, all elements that are repeatedly re-employed throughout. Keiling then shifts up a gear for Let Go, an upbeat and whimsical, funked-up ride that leads onto Semantics, a deeper, house-ier workout built around some rough drum programming and more chopped vocals. We then get some dubstep in The Mattress Excursions (a hint to where it was produced), an otherwise pretty pedestrian exercise in experimentation saved by some properly soulful vocals courtesy of The Drifter. Next, the tempo drops for Through the Night, the sort of R‘n’B sampling, chugging, mid-set house number that Soul Clap would love to make. Tetra is a jazzier affair, cooling the mood a little, before Wait ups the pop factor with some vocoder-based 80s hip-hop fun. Arbitrary Act is a bit of curveball, raising the tempo to technoid levels with clicky and bleepy urgency. This prepares us for Ebdus Ride, a foray into UK bass / post-dubstep (or whatever it’s called) territory, clipped vocals, shuffling beats, and plenty of sub-bass. Separate Spaces is the most traditional 4/4 house song on the album, pounding kick, Detroit pads ‘n’ all. Even here, though, Keiling can’t resist complicating the drum patterns to liven-up what might otherwise have ended up as pretty dull and disposable deepness. We catch another glimpse of his sense of humour in Poem, consisting of a knowingly silly robot voice interlude telling us about love and leaves (or something), before things get much rougher on the closing title track. Again, cut-up funk percussion predominates, but by creating the central melody out of differently-pitched drum sounds, Keiling has created a simple but effective hook for another of his chopped ‘n’ screwed house jaunts. It’s an energetic, but not aggressive, way to finish the album.
With Jacob Korn, Jam City, Daphni, Actress, John Talabot and now Erdbeerschnitzel all reaffirming our faith in the album format, maybe 2012 is the ‘year of the album’ for dance music? We certainly hope so. Strawberry schnitzels forever.
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Words: Robert Bates