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Sep 20

#3: When you’re lost I know how to change your mood

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This bracket is heavily informed by two European developments in the late 90s. The first was the release of Air’s Moon Safari in 1998, which pushed chillout music into the spotlight and (because dinner parties last more than 45 minutes) created a mini-boom among acts looking to follow-it – as well as creating a major headache for Air themselves.

They crop up here with the Beck-guest-spot “The Vagabond”, not in fact the most idiosyncratic thing on their Difficult Second Album 10,000Hz Legend. (It’s aged rather well.) The more song-orientated Zero 7 and the slightly trackier Royksopp are also here – sleepy-lidded, melancholic pop, thoughtful and sometimes a little dull. 

The second big development was happening in Cologne, with increased attention to the Kompakt label and its discreetly gorgeous, detail-rich house productions, which had picked up Anglophone attention under the nom-de-genre ‘microhouse’. Kompakt was the latest in a line of underground German electronic labels – after Berlin’s Basic Channel and Frankfurt’s Mille Plateaux – who were keeping things minimal, specialising in productions which seemed barren or baffling until your ears accustomed to the changes, sounds and shifts hidden in the unfolding track. 

There are three German productions in the bracket – from Jurgen Paape, Corsten Just and the mysterious Phantom/Ghost – but the ethos extends to work from NYC’s minimal disco duo Metro Area, with Matthew Herbert’s found-sound house music also a kindred spirit.

In the schema of the poll, with groups partly structured by streams, you might expect the post-Air chillout pop to land in the more ‘popular’ groups and the trackier German music in the less-streamed ones. But this is only partly the case. For one thing the boundary between the two isn’t as firm as all that – check out the microhouse-y clicks and miniature crunches on Royksopp’s “Remind Me”, or consider how the loveliest song in the whole bracket comes from Kompakt’s Jurgen Paape. For another, some of the tracky stuff became justified classics.

And in any case there are a whole bunch of songs here which don’t easily fit either of the bracket’s two main currents. The most streamed track in the entire group is a 2-minute piano fragment from the Aphex Twin’s Drukqs double-LP. There’s an ambient track by Stars Of The Lid, “Requiem For Dead Mothers”, which hovers in a changing same as effectively as a minimal techno track. Cameos too from Stereolab, dab hands at pop hauntology, with the epic “Suggestion Diabolique”; from Squarepusher’s mutant drum’n’bass; from Osymyso’s hypnogogic bastard pop experiment “Intro-Inspection”, and many more. What looks like one of the most forbidding brackets is also one of the most attractive when you dive in.

POTENTIAL WINNER: It’s vastly unlikely that anything here will have a podium finish but Aphex’s “Avril 14th” is short and pretty and well known enough to put up a strong fight.

BEST TRACK: Jurgen Paape’s “So Weit We Noch Nie” is one of the most entrancing things in the whole poll – it became a little better known in a 2002 reworking but this original should make a lot of friends.

DARK HORSE: Paape would probably be my pick here too, but name recognition and their track’s ambition could see Stereolab put a run together.

DISCOVERY: Herbert’s clicky, noir-ish “It’s Only” is a great find from an act I had – wrongly – written off as not-for-me years ago.

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