Album Review: DJ Koze - DJ-Kicks

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

This year, !K7 Records celebrates a massive milestone, entering the twentieth year of their ongoing DJ-Kicks series and releasing the fiftieth entry in the series. Over its fifty entry catalogue, DJ-Kicks has carved a niche that no other electronic serial really taps into. For Fabric, it's the club translated to a recording. For Back to Mine, it's a homage to the masters. For Late Night Tales, it's a curation with a mood for a center point. But what makes DJ-Kicks so weird and brilliants is that it simultaneously has more and less of a formula than all the others. At first glance, the connection between one mix and the next is almost impossible to see. Try drawing a line between Four Tet's mix of eclectic psychedelia and Carl Craig's blistering mix of Detroit techno wonders and you'll get what I'm talking about. And yet, DJ-Kicks asks of its artists only one thing: make a mix that takes what you do in a massive room in front of an entranced audience and translate it to a single person context. In this, DJ-Kicks accomplishes the impossible. It's a series that, for 20 years, has taken the full experience of the electronic genre and put it in your headphones. And with its fiftieth entry out this week, the series only ripens with time. It's only fitting that this milestone entry is celebrated with the help of a master whose willingness to go the distance and challenge boundaries matches that of the whole series, and thankfully for us, German producer DJ Koze does just that. DJ-Kicks is 50 deep with one of the best we've seen yet - DJ Koze gives us a curation here that makes us smile, laugh, and cry all while feeling every beat stronger than the last.

Koze returned to the scene in 2013 with Amygdala, an album whose ridiculous features list (Caribou, Apparat, Matthew Dear, Milosh, and a Kings of Convenience cover) was only outweighed by its individual brilliance. The house-heavy, impressionistic seventy minute offering was a masterpiece of colorful volumes and sounds, kicking things off with maybe the creepiest out of context Louis C.K. sample ever and ending with a riff on Pachelbel's "Canon in D". It's this eclectic sense of humor and humanism that makes DJ Koze's music so relatable. Where house music can often tend to isolate the listener outside of the context of a dark club, Koze's house music feels most at home buried in your soul. All the elements are already there - Koze just puts them all to a beat.

It's this same approach that Koze uses predominantly on his DJ-Kicks entry. Another goofy vocal sample intros the record over Koze's own "I Haven't Been Everywhere But It's On My List". The track feels too bright and summery to be a belated Amygdala leftover - rather, it stands on its own quite nicely among the other selections and edits offered herein. With chopped up soul and strings, Koze gives you a song you could put on any summer party mix and feel incredible to. Koze's take on R&B and hip-hop rhythms spans the states from west to east. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib's Piñata collaboration "Shame" shows up here in instrumental form. Then there's the Homeboy Sandman track "Holiday" introduced by a kid asking his grandpa in German about Homebody Sandman. This is followed soon by a great Hi-Tek instrumental with The 2 Bears laid over top, which dumps straight into a spoken word track by William Shatner - who even thinks of this stuff?

Somehow, Koze never reaches the point of total chaos. The mix touches on everything from 10 year old favorites (see: cLOUDDEAD remixed by Boards of Canada) to brilliant, brand spanking new instant classics like Koze's edit of Absolute's "Surrender". Where Amygdala feels like Koze doing what he does in excellently polished and controlled form, his DJ-Kicks entry feels like a no holds barred glance inside his head. In a lot of ways, an entry like this feels so right for a series milestone like this. DJ-Kicks celebrates its 50th entry with one of the most human of them all. DJ Koze invites us on his sonic journey to the heart with a mix that surprises, delights, and embraces you with reckless abandon.

Grab DJ Koze's DJ-Kicks (number 50!) at your local record store on CD or vinyl, or at the !K7 web store. DJ Koze is touring Europe throughout the summer. Check dates on his Facebook.

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