Joris Voorn: Nobody Knows

Joris Voorn's 2009 contribution to the Balance compilation mix series made such a lasting impression on me that I initially came to Nobody Knows, the first artist album in seven years from the Dutch producer and DJ, anticipating a dancefloor-oriented collection. It turns out that Nobody Knows, while not wholly bereft of club content, is hardly a straight-up set of techno and house body-movers but something markedly different. Issued on Green, the label Voorn's operated with Edwin Oosterwal since 2005, the hour-long album's an eclectic affair that boasts memorable guest appearances by Kid A on two tracks and Matthew Dear on another.

That Nobody Knows is different from what one might have expected is apparent from the opening track, “The Monk,” in its avowal of conventional dancefloor beats and embrace of cinematic scene-painting. A fusion of acoustic and electronic sounds, the piece presents itself as a dreamy, almost ambient-styled overture perhaps intended to foreshadow the stylistic range Voorn's aiming for.

The inclusion of vocals by Kid A and Dear on their respective songs suggests that Nobody Knows should perhaps be seen as an electronic pop song-based outing more than anything else. Certainly Kid A's vocalizing on the epic ballad “A House” boosts the song's dramatic synthetic design, even if her multi-tracked voice at times resembles Bjork's more than one might like. The bright tinkling with which “So Long” opens takes a cryptic turn when Kid A appears with her “If I could kiss you, I would suck all the smoke at your mouth…” utterance, though the song holds one's attention thereafter as much for its gleaming, multi-tiered synthesizer arrangement as the vocal.

Nobody Knows isn't without its clubby moments, either, as “Homeland” shows. But though Voorn does roll out a snappy house pulse for Dear to emote over, the piece ultimately grows into something greater than a mere 4/4 workout, especially when it features the low-pitched croak of the Ghostly artist alongside a tasty piano hook and fiery synth stabs. The later, vocal-less “Ringo” proves hard to resist in the way it elevates its breezy strut with a tinge of controlled euphoria in its bright keyboard melodies, while the club-ready “Fall” shows Voorn's muscular side in its driving groove.

One of the album's sunniest moments arrives in the form of “MoMo,” a radiant synthesizer-heavy setting Voorn wrote with his father Joop, and Joris also brings an imaginative bent to soundtrack-styled instrumentals such as “The Wild,” which peppers a lithe dub-house groove with clipped vocal edits and glimmering vibes textures. Here and elsewhere, the producer challenges himself as an arranger and songwriter by setting his artistic agenda high. Anything but a slapdash affair, Nobody Knows speaks powerfully on behalf of Voorn as a producer with talents that extend beyond the dance floor. That it aspires to do so might give dancefloor-focused listeners pause, but any impulse they might have to skip the album for doing so should be resisted. If this adventurous outing flouts expectations, it does so in the service of a grander aim.

November 2014