VA: Best of Poker Flat 2013
Poker Flat Recordings

Granted there's some degree of risk in a label releasing a year-end overview of its latest material: imagine how it would reflect on the imprint in question if, for example, said collection underwhelmed as a less-than-stellar collection. Poker Flat Recordings needn't lose any sleep on that count, however, as its own year-end compilation suggests that, fifteen years into its operation, the label's in a perfectly fine state of health at the moment. It's a solid collection (and a generous one at seventy-six minutes) that includes a number of highlights.

Many tracks stretch out but not in a way that tries one's patience. No better example than that is Johannes Brecht's opening “What's About,” a resplendent scene-stealer that moves through multiple stages over the course of its nine-minute run. A classic slow-builder, the track emerges quietly as if rousing itself from sleep to gradually blossom into a wide-eyed panorama of delicate piano-laced atmospheres, synthetic textures, and locomotive micro-house rhythms. Also memorable is Mihai Popoviciu's hard-grooving “Call Me,” an electrified and bass-prodded exercise in funky house that receives a major boost from the soulful vocal phrases draped across its infectiously chugging base.

Some of the material will understandably be familiar to fans of underground club music—“No Adjustments” by label boss Steve Bug one such example—but familiarity has done nothing to diminish its appeal. Bug's tune is bolstered by the subtle tinge of garage that seeps into its slinky club groove and the cheeky vocal drawl of Foremost Poets (“There is nothing wrong with the soundsystem / Do not attempt to adjust it... ”) (the latter outfit also appears in a swinging Dixon update of “Reasons to be Dismal?”).

Berlin producer Alex Niggemann weighs in with two stellar contributions, “Tangram (The Bright End),” an epic throwdown that rises with as much natural force as the early morning sun, and “Lovers,” which assumes a somewhat downcast feel in the plaintive vocal John Rydell contributes to the song (“Where have all the lovers gone?...”). The release also includes two strong showings by Daniel Dexter: an anthemic, high-energy remix by Uner of “Why So Serious?” and a funky, grime-covered Kollektiv Turmstrasse makeover of “Birds.” All things considered, this digital-only full-length makes good on the label's own self-described mission: “an unwavering dedication to the finest underground house music worldwide.”

January 2014