Monika Kruse: Traces
Terminal M

Traces, the fourth album by German producer and DJ Monika Kruse, arrives with an odd discrepancy: for some inexplicable reason, the accompanying press notes list the album as being sixty-six minutes long, whereas the twelve tracks under review total eighty-five. That difference signifies beyond the level of mere technicality, however, as quite clearly, were the album just over an hour in length, it would be a much more satisfying collection all around. Issued four years after the Berlin native's long-player Changes of Perception and released on her own Terminal M imprint, the new collection (all of it previously unreleased save for Kruse and Thomas Schumacher's hot-wired remix of “Wavedancer,” which originally appeared on a 2010 EP) covers a broad stylistic range, and it's unquestionably solid on production grounds. But there are weaker tracks among the strong, and it's the former which one might do well to skip.

Ostensibly, one could omit the first three tracks altogether and simply begin the album with “One Love,” the sole track on which Chicago house pioneer Robert Owens appears. Sure, the opening three are decent enough but none stands out as especially noteworthy. There's a subtle Ibiza-like feel to the opening piece, “Cycle of Trust,” that's not unappealing and its rhythmic thrust is intense, too, but there's an excessive emphasis on atmosphere and too little happening melodically to recommend it unreservedly. Following that are a brief exotic excursion, “Playa Dust,” and “Exhale,” another atmospheric setting that's slightly dubby and less uptempo than the opener. All three could be deleted from the album at no great loss. The temperature immediately rises, however, once “One Love” rolls out. Owens delivers as soulful a vocal as one has come to expect from the “Mine To Give” singer, but the track is distinguished as well by the crisp snap and lithe bass pulse Kruse brings to its slinky groove. A later vocal cut, “With Hindsight,” also proves memorable in pairing an urgent house groove with Nick Maurer's appealing voice, and in featuring a series of enticing hooks (a relative rarity on the disc).

Elsewhere, we also get two fine treatments of “Robot Heart,” an edit version first and the original second. Body-shakers both, the first is a jacking barn-burner Kruse powers with a pulsating bass throb and sweetens with hand-drums, the second a jubilant take on robotic tech-house. The title track's a bit of an oddity, sounding as it does like some jaunty hiking song (replete with “dum-spe-be-de” chants) twisted into techno shape, while the closer “M.U.M” unexpectedly redirects the album into a dramatic ambient-techno zone. Traces has much to recommend it, then, but it's weakened by, on the hand, excessive length and, on the other, by a lean melodic quota. Many tracks are swinging, rhythm-based thumpers of too-generous length, and consequently the ride proves to be more exhausting than invigorating. Here's a full-length album that would still qualify as one if it featured, say, seven tracks rather than the twelve provided, and would be all the better for it.

June 2012