Securing an even bigger foothold at the crossroads of techno and pop, Berlin-based Italian duo Tale of Us returns to Life and Death for the Roman imprint's latest offering. Lead track "Fresh Water" laces the staccato bounce of a rapid-fire bassline with sparsely placed and heavily truncated hints of acid. The smooth, poetic delivery of fellow Berliners The/Das verges on spoken word, as lead member Fabian Fenk injects the track's choppy sturm und drang with brooding emotion and fluidity. Slow and steady, "Fresh Water" heats up to a boil of teetering strings, gurgling bass, and dramatic snare rolls, only to let it all go and settle down before a second movement. Ratcheting things up again, hi-hats click and dark synths drone, heightening the intensity ahead of Fenk's farewell—a breathy series of vocal riffs that fade and echo away as the track drifts into its final moments. Tale of Us partners Matteo Milleri and Carmine "Karm" Conte often speak of instilling a deeper musicality into their productions without sacrificing dancefloor appeal in the process, and the mix of urgency, energy, and soul noir on "Fresh Water" faithfully communicates that; it's a sentiment expressed across the entire EP.
Sounding almost like Endtroducing....-era DJ Shadow gone house in the dark and dreamy opening chords of "Life and Death," Tale of Us teams with Milan's Clockwork for the release's second outing, an ode to its label. More linear than "Fresh Water," "Life and Death" creeps along with padded drum beats and a vocal chanting, "It's not between us and them but life and death," again sung by The/Das's Fenk. Though it technically falls within a tech-house framework, this track sidesteps club appeal, embracing an eerie, leftfield aesthetic of clamoring drums, echoing piano chords, and the muted plucking of a guitar. "Life and Death"'s off-kilter techno-soul makes a strong case for what this unique label seems to be be seeking to achieve—namely, dance music that is at once menacing and infectious, and anything but the norm.
The EP's final turn sees Tale of Us remix "Keep This," originally by The/Das—and it's quite possibly the first time the bellow of a hunter's horn has been gracefully incorporated into the mix. Those blasts lead the charge for a strong closing track, as the song offers a beautifully melancholy blend of deep, walking bass, a shuffling brush beat, and the brief but cool wail of Fenk, who sounds like he's singing underwater. Proceeding delicately, Tale of Us has "Keep This" humming with hypnotic textures, adding layers of French horn, light vocal ahhs, and plucky, soft-edged synths with little fanfare. Letting us down easy with equal parts late-night techno and mystical pop, the vision Milleri and Karm have put on display here proves to be one worth experiencing more often.