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  • Filed under: Review
  • 05/28/2012

Isaac Johan Isaac Johan EP

Although it's remained relatively under the radar, Matias Aguayo's Cómeme imprint has thrived over the past few years, all the while releasing some of the most subversive dance records in recent memory. The label has introduced us to Rebolledo, Ana Helder, and Daniel Maloso (among others), who all released brilliant house records last year that burst with leftfield identifiers like industrial minimalism, Latin eccentricities, and uncomfortably bluff vocals. These artists have grounded the multinational label in a unique style, one united by in-your-face imagery that includes a lot of fire, sun, and well-edited cell phone video. The allegedly "ghost-like" Isaac Johan—which is actually the moniker for a collaborative effort that includes Cómeme compatriot Philipp Gorbachev and Aguayo himself—adds a new, more abstract layer to the existing Cómeme sound.

Upon listening to the EP's opener, "Every Time I See Your Face," it becomes clear that the production approach on this record is quite different than that of the label's previous output. The minimalist basslines and percussion remain, but the vocals are no longer blunt raps or startling yelps. Instead, processed mumbles and groans wash over and smooth out the edges of the familiar Cómeme canvas. The droney result recalls the noise-techno approaches of Brooklyn acts like Excepter or an early Black Dice, but still results in something far dancier than anything those groups ever produced. The record's closer, "Under the Bridge," takes those idiosyncrasies into more abstract territory. The track sounds like it may have been at one point written by Jim Morrison, but it's drowned in repetitive bass and a myriad of noisy devices to the point where its hook-like screams are merely an afterthought.

Isaac Johan was allegedly born from a days-long jam session in a cabin in the woods outside of Moscow, and these tracks undoubtedly have a live, unpolished aspect to them. On "Isaac Johan" (yep, a self-titled track on a self-titled EP), a messy ride sample dominates the mix, edging the group's synth and guitar noodling into the background. On "Sally Wants Silver," hi-hats, handclaps, and bass clip wildly and without cause. Those who have ever engaged in drunken jam sessions can probably attest to trouble in maintaining a balanced and unclipped mix, but Isaac Johan completely ignores those issues and forges ahead. It seems like another manifestation of the uncouth playfulness that defines the Cómeme roster.

It's been a decade since Matias Aguayo released the monumental After Love as one half of Cologne duo Closer Musik. Since then, the producer has shied away from (and castigated) the polished, minimal techno he once perfected and explored other styles of dance music, but he has never been involved in such a lo-fi and unrefined project as Isaac Johan. Viewed through that lens, the Isaac Johan EP offers a unique, human view into both Aguayo's quirks and his label's potential.

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