Mini Pops Junior: Koma
It might seem a bit odd that Mini Pops Junior members Jan Hupe (tenor sax, flute, melodica, autoharp, kalimba) and Tobias Vethake (electric guitar, cello, drums, synthesizer, live looping, field recording) elected to title their third studio album Koma, given the associations coma has with unconsciousness and stimulus-related unresponsiveness. The move might be explained by the fact that a jazz-drone dimension is part of Mini Pops Junior's sound, as well as by an acknowledgement (mentioned within the press release) that the project's sound could justifiably invite comparison to the slo-core noir-jazz of Bohren & der Club of Gore. In Hupe's and Vethake's minds, Mini Pops Junior's music constitutes an improv-rooted blend of jazz, drone, krautrock, ambient, and dubstep.
The duo chose an abandoned Catalan lighthouse at the eastern edge of the Iberian Peninsula as a recording setting for the album, though two pieces (“Ravine,” “Shifted Mind”) were captured live in a sixty-metre tunnel under a go-kart track in the Berlin district Neukölln. Issued on Vethake's own Blank Records, the forty-four-minute release is available in multiple formats, including a striking lemon-yellow twelve-inch pressing.
Things begin on a restrained ambient-styled note in “Lifted” when Hupe's saxophone murmurs against a stark backdrop of nocturnal dronescaping. “A Black Bubble” paints an even darker picture in the way it surrounds its sax musings with a slow-building dub-like mass of synthesizer effects, guitar shards, and convulsive rhythms. The energy level picks up during “Stuck Here,” a loose, improv-styled jam characterized by a shape-shifting yet still relaxed flow of kalimba plucks, electric guitar flickers, synth accents, and sax shadings, and “The Train,” a brief yet nevertheless adventurous jazz-funk jam.
Certainly the cavernous quality of the tunnel setting does figure into the ambient-drone design of “Ravine” and “Shifted Mind” and their creeping cello-guitar-flute atmospherics, while “Ripped to Peaces” [sic] smolders with a measured degree of threat without erupting into out-of-control cacophony. Not surprisingly, the album's most dialed-down cut is “Western Coma,” a slow-burning meditation that would almost seem pastoral if it didn't give off a late-night club vibe. It's a track representative of Koma, whose nine, intimate set-pieces are typically low-key invitations to immersion that require an attentive ear for their subtleties to be appreciated.