Isolée

We Are Monster (Playhouse)

Rajko "Isolée" Mueller's 2000 debut, Rest, was a classic piece of electronic music that truly encapsulated tech-house, a term that has been kicked around ever since Armand Van Helden and Carl Cox began slamming out records with a fiercely seductive 4/4 beat. (Confusingly their music is now referred to as "hard house.") The German producer, in contrast, made music that sounded modest and intimate, like humming under your breath. On Rest's best-known track, "Beau Mot Plage," he brilliantly set Brazilian guitar to a tap-dancing beat, drawing attention from DJs as diverse as Ben Watt, Erick Morillo, and Louie Vega.

But Isolée's long-awaited sequel, We Are Monster, isn't as appealing. Some of the songs are glacial in a way peculiar to dance music, a genre whose listeners often mistake one-note machine music for something focused and driven. As a producer Isolée is too good to foment such tricks, and all of his songs are self-transforming in some way, changing tempo as they play out. But numbers such as "Do Re Mi" are still cold and uncomfortably hypnotic, even if in a slightly more sophisticated fashion. The disc's least successful number is "Schrapnell," a stylistic gimmick similar to "Beau Mot Plage" in which he fuses a lazy cowpoke guitar with a fuzzy, slightly corny electro-pop track. The result is miserable if not admirably idiosyncratic.

We Are Monster is on steadier ground when Isolée revisits the light tech-house style that first earned him notoriety. "Mädchen Mit Hase" is a fun, delightful excursion into computer funk, modishly evolving every four bars like a Teletype machine spitting out two-sentence news briefs. "My Hi-Matic" begins with a keyboard arpeggio and then stumbles through a heady sequence best described as an aural adventure, inviting comparisons to Boards of Canada's blip-hop masterwork Music Has the Right to Children.

It would be wrong to characterize We Are Monster as a bad album. Actually it's pretty good, and most of its ten songs -- maybe seven of them -- are respectably strong. But when the phonetically challenged "Jelly Baby/Fish" drones on, you wonder when it will end, no matter how many ingenious ideas Isolée infuses into it to enliven the proceedings. The same couldn't be said of Rest; that album just moved you.

 
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