Kristian Heikkila: Kombinations

I remember a number of years ago hearing fellow critic Philip Sherburne muse on how his interest in techno would waver—sometimes he'd be deeply into it and at other times he'd find his passion for it waning, only to have a bold new album appear and revive his love for the form. That's a little bit how I felt upon first hearing Kristian Heikkila's Kombinations, as it's the kind of no-holds-barred techno recording that's so solid it can singlehandedly make the listener renew his/her club membership. One listen to “02” (one of two tracks the Swedish producer created with Christian Lundqvist, his one-time partner in Kristian & Christian), for instance, will bring a deserter quickly back to the fold, so seductive is its rolling groove and enticing its thrumming percussive hook, and the tune's aerodynamic bass thrust alone rewards one's attention.

Kombinations is his debut artist album, but he's not new to the scene. After establishing a reputation as a producer of Swedish underground hip-hop artists, Heikkila decided to shift his focus to techno and house. He teamed up with Lundqvist in 2006 before striking out on his own and releasing two singles, Khordium / 02 and 01 / Noid, prior to the album proper (those cuts re-appear on Kombinations alongside eight new originals). As often happens when a dance producer releases an artist album, Heikkila eases the listener in with a brief soundscape prelude (“Ambiencum”) before getting down to business. In essence, this makes “01” the album's true opener, and it presents a strong argument for Heikkila's take on the form. What makes it especially effective is its patient build and evolution, with Heikkila exercising just the right amount of restraint in not having the track peak too early. Yep, it's deep, motorik, and unrelenting, and its charging groove chugs with a locomotive force, but it also travels through multiple episodes over the course of its nine-minute run and so keeps one listening.

Elsewhere, an echo-drenched Infy testifies with a preacher's fervour during the roof-raiser “We Want Techno” (even working a brief vocal nod to Edwin Starr's “War” into his rap while doing so) before stepping aside to let Heikkila twist the tune into a club burner. Dizzying wind-ups and tribal-techno beats make the slamming “Khordium” the album's most hard-core exemplar, while “Filter” and “Noid” also bring the thunder. A few cuts (“Konstruktion” and “Svaj”) point the album in the direction of jacking techno, while an eerie, field recordings-heavy interlude (“Noises”) allows one to catch one's breath before the final cuts appear. True, Kombinations doesn't redefine the techno genre, but it is high quality material that shows off Heikkila's skills in a positive light.

June 2012