VA: Total 6

Upon learning that the sixth Total installment would be a two-disc affair, legions of Kompakt fans no doubt began salivating in anticipation of its assured greatness; now that it's here, they may conclude the idea carries more appeal than the reality. Why two discs anyway? According to press info, “The Kompakt family has grown far too large for only seventy minutes of entertainment” (the move also perpetuates the double format of last year's Kompakt 100 plus celebrates the Cologne label's seventh birthday). Twenty-four tracks and 150 minutes invites understandable grumbling about excess and padding yet should one complain when the set retails for the price of a single CD? Furthermore, those decrying the new collection's greater flirtation with mainstream dance genres might just as easily celebrate the label's refusal to stand still; plus the set pairs veterans (Reinhard Voigt, Michael Mayer, Jürgen Paape, and Jörg Burger) with a slew of new recruits (Rex The Dog, The MFA, Dirk Leyers, The Field, and one-time Closer Musik member Matias Aguayo with partner Marcus Rossknecht).

Ultimately, though, whether one disc or two, if the crux of the matter is quality, on that count Total 6 disappoints. Oh, it's fine enogh—there's no shortage of the impeccably crafted material for which the label is justifiably renowned—but, more often than not, it's merely good rather than spectacular. Take the opening three songs: in DJ Koze's nuanced “Hicc Up,” shimmying pulses criss-cross as bird-like screeches pierce a shadowing drone; synths stretch elastically over funk pulses and euphoric yelps in Dorau/Köhncke's “Durch Die Nacht” (Geiger Mix); and Köhncke's rubbery electro-techno outing “Krieg” turns increasingly intense with the addition of pulsating keys and schizoid squelches—all three fine exemplars of the classic Kompakt sound but not one advancing the label's sound dramatically.

Numerous others—Thomas Fehlmann's chugging “Schöne Grüsse,” Jonas Bering's bell-laden “Glass,” Thomas/Mayer's electro-techno “Panic Room,” Rex The Dog's shimmying “I Look Into Mid Air,” Mikkel's plodding steamroller “Metal Dorant,” Kaito's sunny burbler “Hundred Million Lightyears,” Ferenc's slithering “Tracatra”—leave a similar impression. With its skuzzy machine pulses and ringing hi-hats, Reinhard Voigt's pounding “Ready For Take Off” evokes Kompakt's early days while Jürgen Paape resurrects classic Motown soul in “Cream.” Near album's end, Heib and The Modernist (Jörg Burger) contribute techno tracks of little distinction, “Phönix” and “The International Loner,” respectively, before The Field raises spirits with a bubbling groove of see-sawing strings, snippety hi-hats, and dubby haze in the closer “Action.”

Still, Total 6 is redeemed by a small but noteworthy number of superb tracks, including Toctronic's “Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen” (Superpitcher/Wasserman Single Mix), whose impassioned Teutonic vocal and steaming, bass-crawling groove wax a controlled euphoria, and Superpitcher's “Tell Me About It,” a propulsive slice of downtempo soul-house and breathy female exhalations. One might expect Baxendale's New Wave-styled “I Built This City” (Michael Mayer Mix) to riff on The Jefferson Starship's execrable “We Built This City” but the songs hardly sound alike and lyrics differ too. Augmented by a lead vocal that suggests a less affected Neil Tennant, the song includes a chirping refrain so cheesy it's camp (much like the “Frei/Hot Love” track on Kompakt 100). Elsewhere, Mayer/Aguayo conjure a seductive electro dance with a clever mashing of Kylie Minogue's “Slow” with “Lovefood.” Instrumentals impress too, like Aguayo/Rossknecht's “Bouncin a Round,” a smearing romp of swishing rhythms, snare detonations, and guttural bass croaks that recalls the Kompakt of old, and SCSI 9's sparkling trance groover “Mini.” Most incredible is The MFA's towering “The Difference It Makes.” During its seven minutes, sheets of gossamer shimmer billow over an epic base that escalates and then recedes, ceding the spotlight to entrancingly funky voice snippets; the groove then rises and again drops out, shifting the focus to a grinding wave of oscillating pitches before the steaming pulse re-enters, alternately surging and morphing, before disappearing in a cloud of haze.

By my count, that's seven stunners out of a possible twenty-four—not the greatest batting average, though the remaining seventeen are still credible, though not magnificent. It also bears mentioning that every Total outing has included a fair share of great and not-so-great material; the difference here is that material of average quality stands out more conspicuously when a collection spans 150 minutes.

September 2005