The appearance of a mix CD can sometimes feel like a victory lap; after all, they often happen once a particular artist has proven their worth to the current musical community and is therefore declared "deserving" of a chance to show off their sonic personality in the form of a 70-minute mix—sprinkled with some unreleased tunes, of course. Granted, this sort of generalization can make the appearance of a new mix CD seem like a cynical music-industry exercise, but regardless, it's difficult to think of a man more deserving of a victory lap right now than John Talabot. Following the release of his triumphant debut LP, ƒIN, he's continued to prove worthy of considerable praise as a live act (alongside Pional), DJ, and producer (mostly via a number of remixes). As his contribution to the longstanding DJ-Kicks series goes to show though, Talabot is well aware that victory laps do not make for the most engaging listens, which is likely why he's instead taken the opportunity to put together a truly rewarding mix, one that reveals new facets of his musical DNA and further showcases the substantial depths of his own musical IQ.
After opening with the sprawling crawl of North Lake's "Journey to the Center of the Sun," Talabot's DJ-Kicks explores the more lethargic ends of dance music early on. Beginning below 100 bpm, the mix sifts through noticeably dark, almost tribal efforts (including a particularly fitting remix of Maps' "Heard Them Say" by Andy Stott) as it gradually increases the tempo with each new addition to the tracklist. In this early stage, Talabot's selections ooze more than they flow, giving the beginning of the set a spooky vibe that proves unexpectedly alluring. Seven tracks in though, the man's brighter side begins to peek through on Elmore Judd & Rowan Park's remix of Harmonious Thelonious' "The Grasshopper Was The Witness" and "Anagrama" by Tempel Rytmik—two cuts that continue to notch up the momentum of the mix while beginning to introduce some familiar pan-Latin elements in the breathy flutes, bell-made melodies, and stacks of hand percussion heard in each tune. Shortly thereafter, "Without You"—Talabot's new solo production for the mix—appears, beginning to signal an eventual sea change in the proceedings and essentially serving as the link between the dusky atmosphere his DJ-Kicks has displayed so far and the more energetic selections that will come down the line. It's also just a great tune; ghostly in its own way, "Without You" falls in place with much of ƒIN, balancing hazy synth atmospheres with just a shimmer of the man's trademark pop flair. For those who have had an insatiable appetite for all things Talabot since his debut LP dropped last year, "Without You" will not disappoint.
Following his own contribution is a series of cuts which graciously begin to introduce more house-minded elements to the mix while still remaining calm and cool in their delivery. Axel Boman's Boyz II Men-sampling "Klinsmann" sounds particularly enticing in this section, as does a rough-around-the-edges Moodyman remix of Mara TK's "Run." But it is with Unknown's "#001" that Talabot's DJ-Kicks appears to enter its final push, the shuffling tune signalling that after almost 40 minutes of tagging along with the selector's cosmic, often dark, and—yes, every so often—Balearic-tinged voyage, he has now firmly landed on the dancefloor. Of course, this imaginary dancefloor is entirely Talabot's own, as he manages to seamlessly fit the Eastern-indebted, almost goofy bounce of Samo DJ's "Tai Po Kau" next to the underwater roll of Paradise's Deep Groove's early-'90s effort "Innermind" and Motor City Drum Ensemble's synth-led "Escape To Nowhere" (one of the few cuts allowed to run for an extended length), among others. Talabot's collaboration with Axel Boman as Talaboman and "Glass," a gorgeously melodic cut from (what we can tell is) an anonymous producer operating by the name of Round, provide further highlights in the mix's second half.
Taking a step back, it's hard to see how the mix CD format is not at least in some danger of becoming a dying art in 2013. Between the proliferation of free podcasts and SoundCloud mixes, there is surely no shortage of sets to be heard from both complete professionals and amateurs alike. (Some might even say there are too many mixes out there.) Nonetheless, Talabot's DJ-Kicks proves to be an essential listen, not only because it is an immaculate mix in its own right—one which moves swiftly through a graceful arc—but also because there is just so much vital music to take in over the course of its 70-plus minutes. If someone had given us the option between choosing a new John Talabot record or a new John Talabot mix, we probably would have chosen the record—however, as it turns out, the mix is just as satisfying.