VA: Total 8

Every year, I grumble that the current Total installment would impress more as a flawless single disc rather than a bloated double. This year's verdict is slightly different, however, as the eighth volume maintains a generally high batting average that, for once, almost justifies the excess. Yes, there are a few less-than-enthralling outings (Herve Ak's “The Closer,” for example, simmers for eight minutes to little effect) but this year's model includes a higher-than-expected number of home runs.

Like past installments, Total 8 combines previously-issued cuts with exclusives that anticipate the Cologne imprint's future (like the forthcoming Supermayer release Save the World). If there's an overriding theme to the two-disc opus, it's collaboration, with Jörg Burger joining forces with brothers Wolfgang and Reinhard Voigt in Burger/Voigt (formerly Burger/Ink) and Echo Club respectively, Michael Mayer hooking up with Tobias Thomas (Thomas/Mayer) and with Aksel Schaufler (aka Superpitcher) in Supermayer, and numerous others pairing up for one reason or another. Two other notes: the better first half adopts a more ambitious and wide-ranging approach, while disc two favours a dance-club focus that sometimes calls to mind the Kompakt of old; and, secondly, not only are the recent Total sets longer than the initiating ones but the tunes themselves seldom weigh in at anything less than six or seven minutes.

Cologne duo Burger and Voigt get things moving nicely with “Man Lebt Nur Zweimal,” a burbling bit of chugging funk business that oozes a little taste of acid, a smattering of house, and all kinds of lush drama, especially when tremolo guitar twang injects a lonely plains drifter vibe too. Superpitcher weighs in with a surging banger (“Rainy Nights in Georgia ”) while Nightcats (Jonas Bering and Thierry Mbaye) adds locomotive techno-gleam (“Inside”). Disc two highlights include Reinhard Voigt's lush tech-house sparkle (“Follow the DJ”), Oxia's electrified blaze (“Not Sure”), and Aril Brikkha's vibrant trance-electro-house fusion (“Berghain”). Club-heavy cuts include Jürgen Paape's subtly jacking “Nord,” which casts a surreptitious glance back to Kompakt's minimal techno roots, and Echo Club's “Falter,” which at times resembles a swarm of amplified insects invading a club in full swing. The most anomalous cut is definitely Broke's (Matias Aguayo and Roccness) slinky romp “Coladancer” which sounds positively primal in this finessed context.

Four tracks in particular stand out (all, incidentally, appearing in the opening half): “We Love,” by Boy Schaufler (Jürgen Paape and Superpitcher), which has all the makings of a club monster, especially when its seductive vocal emotively slides across a strutting, bell- and synth-driven stomp; The Rice Twins' iridescent trance-house anthem “Can I Say”; and Thomas/Mayer's sleek slice of Detroit-meets-Cologne elegance “Ueber Wiesen.” Best of all, Partial Arts (acclaimed UK producer Ewan Pearson and Al Usher) contributes eight euphoric minutes to the collection in “Trauermusik” which escalates dramatically until a synth battalion transforms it into an infectious stomp. Nice to report that Total 8 contains mostly hits, and only a few misses.

September 2007