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Sistol/Superpitcher On the Bright Side & Sistol (Remasters & Remakes)/Kilimanjaro

Two eccentric techno veterans unveil new albums, with varying results.

It's hard to believe that the careers of Aksel Schaufler and Sasu Ripatti—you might know them better as Superpitcher and Vladislav Delay—stretch back to the late 1990s. Those were heady times for minimal techno producers. Rob Hood, Daniel Bell, and Richie Hawtin had already sonically rewired the borderlands of Detroit and Windsor; the Hard Wax axis (Basic Channel-Chain Reaction-Burial Mix) reduced and recombined dubby grooves from a studio command center in Kreuzberg; and Mike Ink, before he became fully formed as Gas and Kompakt exec Wolfgang Voigt, artfully ruled rave and club culture from the psychedelic forests near Cologne.

But Superpitcher and Delay (that latter of whom also produced glammy vocal house tracks as Luomo and drier polyrhythmic beats as Uusitalo) each found his own niche quite separate from what came before. It was Delay who got there first, with impressive, frigid but weirdly expressionistic dubscapes that earned him the tag the "boy wonder" for his prolific work on Mille Plateaux, Force Inc., and Chain Reaction. In 1999, he also released a curious LP, made from sludgy drum patterns and ever-thickening basslines, under the name Sistol.

While the success of his other work overwhelmed it, the Sistol moniker has now been resuscitated, and that early work given new life in a re-mastered edition. Sistol also comes with remixes and remakes by FaltyDL, John Tejada, Alva Noto, Mike Huckaby, and other notables. The verdict? Despite some clever interpretive work (Alva Noto and Huckaby, in particular), the overall mood falls flat. What sounded bold and radical at the turn of the century has become stunningly dated and mundane, despite the studio enhancements.

But the kicker is that Ripatti is also releasing a new Sistol full-length at the same time. On the Bright Side is a more expansive, engaging record that features nearly all of the artist's unique ways with dub, tech-house, and space-jazz. The latter trend is especially exciting, given Ripatti's recent work as percussionist with the Moritz von Oswald Trio. You can hear the influence on the gorgeous "Glowing and So Spread" and the noisier, more cosmic trance-rocker "Fucked-Up Novelty." Two other tracks also stand out: the electro-pop cruiser "A Better Shore" and "Funseeker," both addictively danceable and, strangely, reminiscent of early recordings by Superpitcher like "Tomorrow," "Heroin," and "Shadows."

Of course, Schaufler's music doesn't sound like that anymore, unfortunately. His new LP, Kilimanjaro, suffers the same problem that cursed his 2004 debut full-length, Here Comes Love. The songs—and these are songs, not tracks—contain few hooks to grab onto, lack narrative energy, and start to bore at a point when they should begin to thrill. His real talent lies in making other artists sound better; a "Best of Superpitcher" list would arguably include his re-works of Dntel ("This is the Dream of Evan and Chan"), M83 ("Don't Save Us From the Flames"), and Hell ("Je Regrette Everything"), or his 2005 mix CD, Today. At his best, he sings less, tinkers and tweaks the guitars and strings more, and keeps the action fun and flowing on the back of tasty bass hum and well-placed drum kicks.

Kilimanjaro has its highlights, though they are not what you'd expect—or necessarily want—from a Superpitcher listening experience. "Moon Fever" is dark, brooding, and would serve as lovely soundtrack material; "Who Stole the Sun" has traces of Morricone melancholy and drama; and "Black Magic" features the LP's best vocals, though the sexy Spanish whisperings belong to Mexico's Rebolledo of the Cómeme collective.

Schaufler is clearly ambitious. He says he wants to make records like Roxy Music or Prefab Sprout, two of his boyhood inspirations. He admirably sets a lofty bar for himself, but needs to go higher, deeper, or—here's the brutal irony—just have more fun.

Ratings:
Sistol On the Bright Side - 8
Sistol Sistol (Remasters and Remakes) - 6
Superpitcher Kilimanjaro - 5

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