Animal Trainer: Wide
Stil Vor Talent

One can often find Animal Trainer mates Adrian Flavor and Samy Jackson holding court at the Hive club, their home base in Zurich. But if a trip to Switzerland isn't on the horizon, one can always turn to Wide for an in-depth sampling of their Animal Trainer sound. Though it is the duo's debut full-length, they've issued numerous EPs and singles since 2009 on labels such as Stil vor Talent, Katermukke, Dantze, Off Recordings, and their own Hive Audio.

“Come Along” makes for somewhat of a curious album opener in opting for a mellow, campfire-styled vibe, but the endearing quality of the song overrides any such reservation, especially when it accompanies Jimi Jules' laconic vocal with acoustic guitars and trumpet. Perhaps it's Flavor and Jackson's way of serving notice that Wide won't be a one-dimensional affair but a playful trip of many colours, and certainly the inclusion of “The Walk,” an atmospheric slice of electronica replete with church organ and bird chirps, and “Keep Control,” a melancholy, piano-enhanced dance number with singing by Jan Blomqvist, imply as much (as if to remove any doubt, Wide ends with the jaunty electro-polka of “My Town”).

The second track, “How Does it Feel,” feels more in line with the kind of clubby material one might expect from Animal Trainer: a seriously infectious banger whose bump receives a significant boost from Natasha Waters' sensual vocal performance. If the later funk-house jam “Shane” and Euro-trance throwdown “Pollen” don't possess as much personality as “How Does it Feel,” they work hard at compensating for it in their energized delivery and hard-grooving swing (regrettably “Pollen” is marred by a banal “Okay, party people in the house” vocal riff). Also memorable are “Crashed Tuesday,” which shows Flavor and Jackson to be expert tension-builders and sophisticated handlers of melodic counterpoint, and the title track, whose bass-pumping swing receives a rousing boost from bright trumpet playing.

But while Wide includes its share of strong cuts, there are weaker ones, too. Three tracks in, “Killed You” flirts a little too much with mainstream house for my liking, and Annek's singing at times comes a little close to Madonna's for comfort as well. And the undistinguished “Gone 4 Ever” sounds like the kind of deep house Animal Trainer could probably do in its sleep. Filler it might not be, but it comes close to sounding like it in the context of an overlong recording (it's also possible that such material is better experienced in the Hive club context than on disc, where it tends to drag). In a perfect world, such lesser tracks would be deleted from the release, which at eighty-seven minutes and thirteen tracks could withstand the pruning. Wide is worthy of recommendation, but a more satisfying version of it would be leaner.

May 2014