DJ Koze 'Knock Knock'

The German producer’s latest album balances pop pleasure with weird details to sublime effect.
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Score: 8.5/10

Hamburg, Germany’s Stefan Kozalla can’t resist the call of the weird. As DJ Koze, he’s been making offbeat and bewitching sounds for 20 years, swerving the conventional but always keeping an ear turned towards the dancefloor.

His musical journey began in 1993 as part of hip-hop group Fischmob and continued as part of sampladelic dance crew International Pony, but it wasn’t until he went solo as DJ Koze that Kozalla really began to wave his freak flag high.

Initially releasing through Cologne’s highly regarded electronic label Kompakt, Kozalla started to cultivate a unique melodic sound on records such as 2005’s Kosi Comes Around. It featured tunes such as the leftfield techno of “Estrella," a deeply emotive piece that wove arresting string samples into bleeps and blips. Launching his Pampa label in 2009 with Marcus Fink, Koze’s releases got stranger as his renown as a club DJ grew, and were characterized by their found sound vocal samples, incongruous snippets, and touches of humor, mixed into deeply felt, emotional tunes. 2013’s Amygdala album saw him hook up with similar leftfield giants such as Caribou and Apparat, and contained bittersweet gems like the almost Arthur Russell-esque “Track ID Anyone?”, drawing samples from acoustic instruments in addition to more obviously electronic noises and vocals. Remixes are some of Koze’s best work: his version of “Bad Kingdom” by Moderat soldered an evil warping bass onto the melancholy synths and vocal of the original, adding garage referencing beats and samples of a trumpeting elephant to electric effect.

Koze’s appeal and audience have grown steadily over the years and his masterful mix of weirdness and dancefloor savvy, of inventiveness and melodic detail, has been sharpened. That’s evident on Knock, Knock, a record notable not only for its considerable length (16 tracks) but its sense of cohesion and staggering brilliance. Lead single “Pick Up” is the most straight up track on the record: a simple but devastating disco house tune, with a melancholy loop from a Gladys Knight song. It’s the kind of thing that’s so easy to get wrong, but this is produced to perfection: heart-tugging club dynamite.

“Pick Up” is atypical of Knock, Knock, as for the most part, it’s a more intricate affair, employing Koze’s familiar musical features, but in a fresh and striking way. “Colors of Autumn” is a lovely R&B funk piece, with lush guitar and soulful vocals from Speech (of Arrested Development), sounding a little like something Toro y Moi might make, if it wasn’t for Koze’s trademark buzzing electroid bass. By contrast, “Bonfires," with its samples of Bon Iver vocals, harks back to his melancholic earlier material, with twisting acidic riffs and ominous sub-bass interjecting amid clouds of abstract synth.

Though Knock, Knock has a surprising number of guest cameos, they never feel forced, always contributing to the songs rather than dominating them. “Music On My Teeth” begins with a sample that states: “Time is a social institution and not a physical reality," and proceeds into a hazy sunlit realm of psychedelic guitar and vocals from Jose Gonzalez. It’s a little reminiscent of The Avalanches, in its intricate meld of samples of warm feeling, and the spirit of that band seems to haunt Knock, Knock throughout. “Illumination” with Roisin Murphy finds her expressive voice draped over a breakbeat-laden cut with chopped up bass and bleeps, while “Muddy Funster” with Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) is a bittersweet hip-hop bump which finds that leftfield indie/country singer’s vocals manipulated with effects and dueling with an R&B vocal sample.

Knock, Knock is without doubt DJ Koze’s most accessible record, with a sheen that will certainly appeal to listeners outside the dance sphere. It’s also a definitive statement, combining his many influences into something that’s hugely enjoyable and emotionally resonant. Most important of all, it’s still very weird. And we wouldn’t want him any other way.

Tracklisting

01. Club der Ewigkeiten

02. Bonfire

03. Moving in a liquid (feat. Eddie Fummler)

04. Colors of autumn (feat. Speech of the band Arrested Development)

05. Music on my teeth (feat. José González)

06. This is my rock (feat. Sophia Kennedy)

07. Illumination (feat. Róisín Murphy)

08. Pick up

09. Planet Hase (feat. Mano le tough)

10. Scratch that (feat. Róisín Murphy)

11. Muddy Funster (feat. Kurt Wagner)

12. Baby (how much I LFO you)

13. Jesus

14. Lord knows

15. Seeing Aliens

16. Drone me up, Flashy (feat. Sophia Kennedy)

Knock Knock is out now via Pampa Records.