VA: Kompakt Total 12

Like clockwork, Cologne-based Kompakt rolls out its annual Total compilation with the twelfth immediately distinguished by two details: it's a single CD (and double vinyl) release, first of all, which means that there's less of a chance there'll be an overall drop in quality that the excessive double-CD format brought about in previous volumes; and it's the first time in a while that all five founding members—Michael Mayer, Wolfgang Voigt, Reinhard Voigt, Jörg Burger, and Jürgen Paape—have appeared in the series (Burger and Reinhard Voigt appear under a new alias, Mohn, for the closing track “Tiefental,” while Paape's “Pray” is exclusive to the vinyl version).

As usual there are highs and lows. Belgium producer Kolombo starts things off promisingly with the luscious, late-night serenade “Waiting For,” which builds its synth-heavy arrangement (replete with a Howard Jones sample) into a gloriously epic overture, and though the lyrics are pretty silly, it's hard not to get swept up by Matias Aguayo's maddeningly infectious “I Don't Smoke,” especially when the cut's supercharged by a buoyant bass-and-drum groove and spicy call-and-response hooks. Also strong is Coma's “Playground Altona,” which rolls out a gorgeous set of chord changes in an entrancing five minutes of trance-techno that one is sorry ends so soon.

Elsewhere, Mayer makes two contributions, one a thunderously jacking (and rather eerie) original, “That's What I Told Sanchez,” and the other a remix of WhoMadeWho's “Every Minute Alone,” a curious electropop song featuring a winsome lead vocal that's got a bit of Jim Morrison's DNA in its mix. Melodically, the song's a bit of an oddity in its woozy melodic progressions, though, in its defence, it does keep one listening until to the end. Though it's hardly the greatest track he's ever produced, Superpitcher fares well with the radiant swing of “White Lightning,” while Burger resurrects his The Modernist alias for “Remodernist,” a modestly rousing slab of light-footed techno, and Wolfgang Voigt takes dizzying loops of an opera singer for a pastoral jaunt during “Frieden” (“Peace”). Less successful is the overhaul Italian outfit Tale of Us gives Gus Gus's “Over,” simply because the remix largely reduces the vocal in the fabulous original to little more than an ethereal whisper and ends up—despite the presence of a deliciously funky bass line—being too repetitive to justify its eight-minute length.

It's easy to take Kompakt for granted when its Total and Pop Ambient series appear year in and year out with such seasonal predictability. Adding to that is the fact that not every one of Total 12's tracks hits it out of the park, so to speak, with some of it more serviceable than spectacular. Countering that, however, are the surprisingly strong tracks by Matias Aguayo, Kolombo, and Coma, and the overall quality level of the collection, which on average one would pitch at between medium and high.

October 2011