Review: Jacob Korn – You & Me

Antithetical to the concise aesthetic statements found across well-rehearsed 12”s, the full length LP is dangerous territory for most producers. Having to spread the kinesis of a taut club track across 60 minutes without exhausting the listener is difficult. Relying on the usual compositional techniques transforms potent ideas into islands in an uninviting sea of DJ-friendly intros and outros. Conversely, cutting the dancefloor out of the equation often neuters any appeal the artist once had, relegating their vision to the electronic music world’s analogue of coffee table jazz: the dreaded “post-club comedown album.” Of course, the biggest elephant in the room is that the platonic ideal for expressing the myriad beauties and contours of your dancefloor vision in long form already exists in the shape of studio mixes. For instance, compare and contrast the extremely potent Fabric 45 mix Omar-S crafted entirely from his own material with his often sluggish LPs.

There are, of course, routes through which these pitfalls can be avoided, with a number of fine 2012 albums signposting the way. Take Jam City’s fantastic debut, a pitch perfect construction sticking so religiously to its conceptual vision that it’s impossible to avoid absorption into its perfectly sculpted sonic environment. Although it undermines its dancefloor potential with its crisp asymmetry, by utilising a limited but exotic palette from start to finish it achieves a level of coherency most dance LPs never reach. Addressing the home listening/dancefloor divide with even greater success is Nina Kraviz on her eponymous album for Rekids. With her own sensuous vocals remaining a constant throughout a varied love letter to the deepest of Chicago house, Kraviz’s music retains an emotive and characteristic humanity in even its most abstract moments. Which brings us to Jacob Korn’s debut You & Me, a record that is nestled firmly among these fine subverters of stereotype – and yet touches on every cliché in the book.


Stream: Jacob Korn & Sneaker – Heteronomous (Uncanny Valley)

Let’s begin with its central premise: 11 tracks, 11 different collaborators. Although many of the vocalists and producers that appear have commonality in Dresden label Uncanny Valley, there is considerable distance between, for example, Beth Gibbons sound-a-like Kid A and Smallville regular Christopher Rau. As the only conceptual thread running through the album, one would be forgiven for expecting the usual incoherence in sound that can arise when a producer enlists a raft of contributors. Such fears are unfounded. It’s a testament to Korn’s production chops that the sole defining quality of each track is not an imposing guest but instead a powerful new instantiation of the deep house sound developed on singles for Running Back, Dolly and Permanent Vacation. Where those releases were content to evolve slowly with a messy ambivalence, now the entrance of any new element is precision-placed for maximum potency. The more cynical might attribute Korn’s new-found virtuosity to the hired help, but the consistency in sound and quality with which the album plays out tells a different story. Rather than leaning on eleven separate characters, Korn uses his friends as conduits for his own creativity and its actually surprising to note that the run of producer collaborations that make up the last two thirds of the album are the work of so many people.

With that said, “You & Me” really is a “collection of tracks” in the most literal sense. Bound together only by the aforementioned salutation to collaboration, even a coherency in sound doesn’t remove the feeling that what we’re listening to might well have been spread across five 12”s in a parallel universe. With the exception of submerged openers “The Place” and “Broken”, each track is designed entirely with DJs and the dancefloor in mind. There’s a sense that the record is sequenced in order to mimic the ebb and flow of a club set (that old canard clung onto by unimaginative producers and desperate music journalists alike) but it certainly doesn’t match the smooth continuity of a mix. What is fundamental, though, is how little this matters. Had “You & Me” been split across a number of singles, the majority of them would have been buy-on-sight.


Stream: Jacob Korn & Christopher Rau – I Need You (Feat. The Drifter) (Uncanny Valley)

Take “I Need You”, a high definition re-imagining of Rick Wilhite’s best. Though it owes a debt to many a classic of old, from the burbling analogue bass to the crooned invocations to a mystery romance it wears Detroit’s skin with such conviction it’s impossible not to be drawn in. Elsewhere “Makin’ Love” plays fast and loose with French filter house tropes but transcends mere homage with a detour through the Dresden aesthetic that has singled out Uncanny Valley as ones to watch. The clear highlight, however, is the cavernous “Heteronomous”. Ostensibly a drum machine workout of the sort Funkineven has been re-popularizing through his output on Eglo Records, around the two minute mark a haunting synth denouement completely flips the script. A disembodied voice subverts the usual invocations to the house nation with an inhuman incantation for the darkest depths of the dance floor. “Terrible, endless and new.. Carried by rumbling machines,” whispers the voice “Is my heart beating even?” As with a number of tracks, there’s clear parallels with Redshape’s mining of historical Detroit vibes, though the darkness inherent in the masked one’s work is only really matched here. Elsewhere, the same tropes are cast instead with radiant light, imbued with beautifully slick synth work. Though the constituent parts are all classics at this point, Korn is surprisingly successful at putting them to work carving out a niche of his own.

Whilst lacking obvious draws like the dizzying abstraction of Actress’ “RIP” or the selective nostalgia of John Talabot’s “Fin”, “You & Me” stands its ground among 2012’s full lengths through its pitch perfect execution alone. Riding roughshod over the usual pitfalls, it is defiant in its adherence to convention- even often misguided convention – in a way that is paradoxically unique among its peers. By emphasizing its simplicity it also draws attention to the sheer quality of the craft on display – and that is the most timeless solution of them all: don’t reinvent the wheel, but do it damn well.

Jacob Korn’s “You & Me” is now available through Uncanny Valley, order here

Simon Docherty
Simon Docherty

@srdocherty

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