Ulrich Schnauss

Berlin's Ulrich Schnauss spends his sophomore album, A Strangely Isolated Place fighting against the titular solitude. His attack is a dense, gently suffocating sound/security blanket that places him in a shoegazing context, with its thick haze of string-slung and digital melodies and neutered vocals (delivered by Schnauss's girlfriend Judith Beck, another cure for loneliness, no doubt).

Arriving on our shores a year after its European release, Place may be retro-obsessed, but it's a step forward for Schnauss, who has moved past aping Boards of Canada by floating keyboards above hip-hop beats. With some genuine reverb and more intricate beat smelting, it has more to nibble on, though he probably still holds the title for being the electronic musician most likely to hug you.

For the most part, Place is yes music. Its individual sounds are so soothing; they don't want to disturb each other. When Schnauss comes up with a model-gorgeous melody on "Blumenthal," which he dresses up and strips down with equal success, he doesn't need to create sonic tension. But a little cacophony never hurts. "Clear Day" stands out because its melodic stream bends in sinister ways, and its beats, battered with static, seems as if they're ready to fall apart. But rarely does Place sound like much is at stake, so it comes off as over-polite. Cuddler, coddler, whatever.

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Rich Juzwiak