Album Reviews

Pole – Pole

UK release date: 7 July 2003

Pole, AKA Berlin based Stefan Betke, has been around for a few years now, specialising in minimal dub and techno as well as remixing for the likes of Depeche Mode. His influence has slowly gained momentum, whether it be an appearance on a Levi’s advert or collaborating withRadiohead or Four Tet.

This album, and the preceding EP’s, 45/45 and 90/90 have been noticeable for a definite change of direction. Gone are the scratchy, almost deliberate obtuse tracks of the past and in comes a smooth new sound, augmented for the first time ever by some vocals.

The Ohio rapper Fat Jon provides the said vocals on four tracks, the best being recent single Slow Motion. Betke’s percussive, edgy soundscapes are the perfect foil for Fat Jon’s laid back rap. It’s reminiscent of Massive Attack‘s work with Tricky, conjuring up images of seedy late nights in bars, with a sense of danger lurking underneath the surface.

The pace stays at the same sleepy rate throughout, but this isn’t an album to put your feet up and relax to. Some of Betke’s instrumental tracks, such as Umbrella, employ a stuttering, uneasy feel while Bushes features Thomas Haas‘ woozy saxophone to uneasy effect. The atmospherics can’t help but be admired, but whether these tracks would be someone’s first choice to listen to in their living room is another matter.

More successful is Green Is Not Green Yellow which has a lovely reggae dub style to it, bringing to mind some of The Orb‘s best material. August Engkilde’s upright bass provides a floaty, funky structure and the harmonica effect lends the track a dreamy effect. It’s the sort of thing you can imagine in a David Lynch movie, with all the confusion and menace that implies.

Overall, this is a successful change in direction for Pole – the vocal tracks are nicely mixed with the instrumentals meaning that’s Fat Jon’s delivery never really outstays its welcome. Betke’s sounds is still as cool and clinical as you’d expect from a German techno artist, but the hip hop influence means this is more listenable than his previous albums. If Betke carries on in this direction, expect more than advertising agencies to come calling.

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Pole – Pole