Pole: Pole

In the spirit of the 'Heroin House' label infamously coined to describe the classic Chain Reaction style, the music on Pole's 'Yellow' full-length might have been christened 'Opium Dub,' given the narcotized qualities of its lumbering tracks. More critically, there was an entropic quality to the release, suggesting that Stefan Betke desperately needed to pursue a new direction in order to revitalize his music. Pole confirms that Betke's music has undergone a 'rehab' of sorts by infusing his unique take on electronic dub with hip hop-influenced beats and vocals. Yet the intense hype surrounding Pole's new direction obscures the fact that it's really not entirely different from his former sound. Certainly the signature crackles and pops are gone, drums have been added, and, whereas before he worked alone, he now collaborates with saxophonist Thomas Haas, bassist August Engkilde, and rapper Fat Jon. But the core of Stefan Betke's unique musical sensibility remains since his lurching tracks still retain their dubby roots and textural surface noise is still present, although less conspicuously, on many tracks. Regardless, Pole represents a rejuvenating advancement upon the hermetic qualities of his previous work.

Pole impresses because of its variety and breadth. Its track sequencing is also well-handled, as Fat Jon's four appearances are interspersed amongst the five instrumental tracks which, in turn, assume different characters given their distinctive qualities. By hip hop standards, Fat Jon's smooth rapping is tame yet it effectively complements Pole's sparse, spacious style by not overwhelming it. His laid-back flow is featured on the laconic “Slow Motion,” the funky “Arena,” and the echo-laden, dubby tracks “Round Two” and “The Bell.” Of the five instrumental pieces, three are reminiscent of the 'old' Pole. “Bushes (There is a Secret Behind)” deploys audible surface noise and background voice samples for texture, a glockenspiel for the simple melody, and Haas's serpentine saxophone. The dubby “Umbrella” uses a lurching rhythm of clipped hi-hats and snare accents alongside ghostly piano lines. The track most reminiscent of his former style is the majestic “Green is Not Green-Yellow” whose dub style is enhanced by melodica accents, acoustic bass, and sax. “Back Home,” on the other hand, is markedly different. Its funky, gliding pulse is bolstered by surging waves of surface hiss, percussive accents, and echoing chords. The most unusual track, however, is “Like Rain (but Different),” with its nervous, stuttering beat, curling rings of keyboard accents, and guttural vocal sounds.

One can't help but be slightly bemused by talk of Pole's new style when artists like Prefuse 73 release music that's equally bold and innovative with comparatively little hoopla. Like Pole, One Word Extinguisher is a fusion of instrumental and vocal hip hop-influenced electronica (albeit one missing a dub dimension), but one so teeming with ideas that it makes Pole seem reserved by comparison. Yet in its subtle way, Pole is radical too, but demands closer listening in order to fully appreciate it as such.

August 2003