Michael Mayer: Mantasy

Eight years on from DJ, label owner, producer, and remixer Michael Mayer's somewhat underwhelming 2004 debut outing Touch, the Kompakt mainman returns with an eclectic collection that touches down in multiple stylistic zones. Perhaps the biggest surprise about Mantasy isn't its regrettable title but that it's so much of a so-called listening as opposed to full-bore dance or club album; certainly the reputation Mayer's built up over many years as a DJ accounts in part for that expectation. But the ten-track collection puts some considerable distance between it and its predecessor, and in that regard Mayer's own statement that the album “clearly reflects the gazillions of sounds I'm listening to in private, especially my love for soundtracks or soundtrack-like music” says much about the wide-ranging scope of the material.

Taking each of the album's tracks in the order they're presented shows just how eclectic the project is. “Sully” cues the listener to the album's eclectic persona with a beatless ambient reverie that segues from an ominous opening section into something more soothing. Of more importance, however, is how far removed the track is from Mayer's techno side, and how seamlessly the piece would fit onto one of Kompakt's annual Pop Ambient collections. Having eased the listener into the album, Mayer serves notice with “Lamusetwa” that Mantasy will range considerably beyond an ambient style for something harder-hitting and funkier. It's also here where the first strong indication of the album's broad instrumental sound comes to the fore, in particular when horns (real or simulated though they might be) surface alongside the throbbing bass funk figure and drums. The breezy “Wrong Lap” perpetuates the funk vibe once more, and it's telling that, three songs into the album, techno has yet to appear—even if “Wrong Lap” sees it inching ever closer. And while the title track does plant us firmly on the dancefloor, it does so with a precision-tooled exercise in Italo Disco powered by chugging synthesizer patterns that's got as much to do with krautrock and kosmische musik as it does techno.

Aside from an intro that sounds a little too much like Ellie Goulding's “Lights” to be ignored, “Baumhaus” quickly establishes itself as a distinctive piece in its own right, not only for its prettiness but for an arresting arrangement that numbers harp, glockenspiel, and woodwinds amongst its sounds—hardly the kind of thing one might have expected from Mayer. Though its title suggests some Clash-like raveup, “Rudi Was a Punk” swaggers more in the style of T. Rex-styled glam-rock, despite the unusual juxtapositions that emerge in the inclusion of glockenspiel, marimba, and horns. How interesting it is that the track that comes closest to a typical Kompakt techno cut, the acid-techno swirler “Voigt Kampff Test,” appears as the eighth of the set's ten tracks; the writhing convulsions of the synth-heavy “Neue Furche” (New Groove) hit the dance floor hard, too. At first it seems odd that the slinky techno banger “Good Times” is sequenced as the last track, given its “Let's just have a good time” lyric—shouldn't a line like that come at the album's beginning? But Mayer was smart to put it last as the vocal by WhoMadeWho's Jeppe Kjellberg helps the album exit on a distinctive note, whereas putting the vocal at the start might have set an expectation for other tracks to feature vocals also and courted disappointment for not doing so. Don't let the lame title put you off: I don't hear Mantasy as “album of the year” material necessarily, but I do hear it as a solidly crafted effort that significantly improves upon its predecessor. The broad stylistic terrain Mantasy covers also proves to be one of its major strengths.

November 2012