Johan Skugge: Volume

While Skugge doesn't re-write the tech-house rulebook on Volume, he does bring Basic Channel dub-house out of its cavernous bunker and into the bright Swedish sunlight. In doing so, this one-time player in Swedish rock bands Yvonne, Rockmonster, and Harlem replaces the strain of dramatic portent that underscores the Berlin variant with an appealing analog-inflected dub-techno-house fusion that's mellower and more effervescent.

Volume, Skugge's second full-length release following his Source debut Objects and Buildings and a pair of Mitek EPs, features ten elegant and meticulously constructed dance music forays. As seems to increasingly be the case these days, the disc splits into vocal and instrumental tracks with the former the more captivating of the two, the vocals giving the tracks an immediately accessible pop flavour. Compare, for example, the different impressions left by the first two songs. Boosted by its jubilant tone and memorable vocal hook, “Bring Me On” is a perfect opener. Skugge fashions a bleeping tech-house funk base spritzed by bright oscillating wave patterns and burbling bass lines and then sweetens it further with Laura Delicata's trance-like appeals (“I want to see what you see / I want to feel what you feel / I want to be where you are / Bring me on…”). Teeming with rattles, voices, and aqueous smears laid over pinpoint beats, “CSB,” the instrumental that follows, inhabits fine but standard issue dub-house territory in a manner that can't help but engage less. Still, there's no denying the obvious craft of the instrumentals, especially when the title track, for example, offers warm and languid dub-house that's as soft as a feathered pillow.

Occasionally, influences can be detected. Andreas Byhlin's vocal line in “Set-up” recalls Luomo and, while the song's arrangement of criss-crossing vocals is undeniably appealing, Skugge might want to avoid lyrics of such banality the next time around (“I know you want it / I know you want it / Yeah”). Elsewhere Delicata chants “De-ca-dance” using her best Euro-goth robot whisper over croaking and clattering shuffle rhythms, while Byhlin incessantly repeats a hypnotizing mantra over gliding dub-house beats in “Implosion.” Perhaps the album's most striking moment, though, appears in “Forevermen” where Skugge pairs skanky electro-house rhythms with the elephantine squawk of Byhlin's filtered chant. Much like the unshakeable hook of “Bring Me On,” it's an indelible moment that will stay with you long after Volume ends.

February 2005