Reviews

Pole

When it comes to his own recordings Stefan Betke, a veteran sound engineer for respected techno musicians like Basic Channel and Maurizio, has an obsession with the tinniest of sounds, including those accidentally created from faulty equipment. His delicate, sparse take on production has often been recognized as an extension of the Jamaican dub lineage. On his fourth album as Pole, Betke expands on this formula by cranking up the volume a notch and adding a human voice (lyrical poet Fat Jon, who appears on four songs), making one of his best efforts in the process.

As a rapper, Fat Jon eschews in-your-face bravado for a philosophical bent that is a good match for Betke's subtleties. On the opener, the latter pairs a woozy metronome to Jon's thoughts about time manipulation. "Arena" finds Jon discussing universal human lessons through introspective words like, "You don't have to feel ashamed if you want to change the rules/Only your brain must approve/Just chalk it up to paying dues/Can you remove your doubts and master your inner conflicts/Without losing yourself inside condensed nonsense?"

Even on songs without Jon, Betke still composes for command attention, as on the booming bass of "Bushes" and the tense yet sweet xylophone melody of "Round Two." But it's almost as if the spectre of Jon's presence has encouraged him to craft in a much louder and bolder manner than ever before; the funky, stuttered drums that drive "Like Rain," for example, are far more arresting than many of his earlier tracks. On this album, Pole finally speaks up with an increased rhythmic richness and an eager willingness to stretch his preconceived boundaries. Here's hoping people are listening.

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Tamara Palmer