Kate Wax: The Dark Heat Collection I and II
Mental Groove

Kate Wax's The Dark Heat Collection is a hefty double-disc release that pairs a set of remixes and new edits (The Dark Heat Collection II) with a digital-only release of Wax classics and unreleased gems (The Dark Heat Collection I). The half-European, half-Tibetan electro-pop chanteuse explores multiple styles throughout but unifies them via generally sparse, synth-based arrangements and her crystal-clear vocalizing (“Choose They Croon” instantiates the style in its skeletal combination of whispered vocal, writhing synth figures, and snare thwacks). Much of the material exemplifies a luminous fusion of torch singing, cryptic lyrics, and goth-techno. On songs like “Heroine,” Wax exploits the rhythmic disjunct between a slower, alluring vocal line and an insistent, harder-edged backing in tracks that merge elements of dance music and conventional song structures. Comparisons to Ellen Allien (specifically Thrills ) are as inevitable as they are understandable, given the scarcity of female vocal-based techno songwriting, but Wax's music is slightly less dance-driven than Allien's. Echoes of Zeebee and Goldfrapp also resound (with its bleepy schaffel and seductive goth-queen/dominatrix vocal, “Pleasure Zone” would sound right at home on Supernature) while minimal techno-funk tracks like St. Plomb's swinging “Killing Your Ghost” remix should appeal to Minus aficionados too (Wax's languorous delivery in “Spoken” also recalls the style of Susanna Karolina Wallumrød).

Though it appears to be pitched as a secondary collection, the all-original The Dark Heat Collection I is as strong as the remix album. In “Angel Blues,” Wax's haunting voice slowly unfurls like a spiral of cigarette smoke while a faster rhythm struggles to break free; eventually the two rhythms coalesce into a funky groove before diverging again at the end. There's a spooky electro-punk shuffle (“Killing Your Ghost”), haunting torch-techno (“Beetles and Spider”), plus a nine-minute club raver (“Scream and Shout”) where Wax shows off a Prince-styled falsetto. As it nears its end (“Spoken,” “The Wild Me”), the album eventually settles into a more minimal and dreamy zone before closing with the serene “Defroster” (“Is it hard to defrost my heart? / Is it hard to warm the cold?”).

The Dark Heat Collection II has its share of great moments too. Roman Flügel layers Wax's languorous drawl atop cold mechano techno in his “Beetles and Spider” overhaul; a nice study in contrast finds Ellen Allien and Apparat stripping much of the vocal away in their almost wholly instrumental version, and recasting it as a sleek and buoyant banger. Equally strong is Dave the Hustler's potently danceable “Cash on Time” remix, a snappy, hand-clapping funk treatment with Wax's upper register vocal a potent hook. In addition, Kalabrese invests “Scream and Shout” with bleepy swing before Wax's beatless outro “Who Can Tell” lull ones off to sleep. Needless to say, Wax's ambitious The Dark Heat Collection makes a strong cumulative impression.

April 2007