DJ Koze – Amygdala

DJ Koze told me in an interview for inthemix last year that he doesn’t like the way his music often gets tagged as ‘weird’ or ‘funny’. He’s not out to be some kind of techno prankster; he aims to create sounds that defy expectations, and occasionally astonish, but are never strange for their own sake.

Maybe the gentleman doth protest too much. Hamburg’s finest certainly doesn’t do himself any favours packaging himself the way he does with his second artist album, Amygdala. There’s the crazy artwork that looks like like something Matthew Barney might have produced for Captain Beefheart while hung over. There’s the goofy skit thingey at the start that folds a sample of two guys tripping their balls off into Four Tet-like wind chimes and Buddhist chants, giving the listener contact buzz. Let’s face it, Koze’s stuff always going to be on the freaky side. But when you sit and listen to his precisely constructed, frequently ethereal tracks, you quickly realise they aren’t throwaway jokes; he’s deadly serious about the beauty and emotion attainable in electronic music. The tension between those two points – weird and wonderful – defines Amygdala, and the result is a diverse, ambitious package of powerful electro-pop that’s psychedelic but also surprisingly accessible. As the refrain of one song goes, “We’re all sensitive people.”

The album’s title refers to the brain’s limbic system, where emotions and memories are processed – the non-intellectual bits. Thus Amygdala is a suitably dreamlike, drifting ride through some playfully enchanted soundscapes that reveal different aspects the more you listen. We already knew Koze was versatile, thanks to his equally sure hand with both minimal tech and more soulful offerings, not to mention his delirious excursions into ambient (documented in Kompakt’s mighty Pop Ambient series). Here he blends all that and more into a package that’s diverse but satisfyingly cohesive. This is a proper album.

With guest vocal appearances from bigshots Caribou and Matthew Dear, Amygdala seems to inhabit the no-man’s land between the former’s moody, hooky indie-dance and the latter’s deep-fried techno-burlesque. Others along for the trip include fellow Deutschlanders Apparat and Ada. A warm palette of organic (but still off-kilter) instrumentation including guitar, piano and vibes contributes to a tuneful, sun-drenched indie-ish sound; while Koze mattes everything with a gauzy shimmer and keeps up a steady stream of head-nodding midtempo beats. The resulting funky hybrid could be called disco shoegaze. It’s a compelling new twist on Koze’s already formidable repertoire and calls for many repeat spins.

The centrepiece cut Magical Boy nicely distills the different elements at work: beginning with a lovely, soulful, sampladelic deep-house instrumental, it lurches into an extra-distorted vocal from Dear, who sort of sounds like he’s had one too many nights out. Elsewhere, Marilyn Whirlwind has a Daft Punk-like electro-funk grind; while Don’t Lose My Mind is a delicate, jazzy breakbeat construction a la Bonobo or Gold Panda. Homesick, featuring a delicious vocal from Ada, has enough relentless R&B groove and bulletproof melody to be an honest-to-God hit.

Ace chillout soundtrack, winning left-field pop experiment, candidate for sleeper hit of the year, Amygdala threatans to reach for an indie fanbase far beyond Koze’s dancefloor following. If he and his brethren keep unleashing potent work like this, weird is going to be the new normal.