It was just one year after Kompakt was established in 1998 that the label began issuing it's yearly Total compilation series. Acting as a kind of global communique from its Cologne headquarters, the Total comps helped to indoctrinate an entire generation of non-12"-buying listeners to the new sound of German electronic music. And much like the label that spawned it, the Total series has managed to remain relatively consistent. The latest, Total 12, maintains this consistency, but at the expense of the experimental and innovative spirit at the heart of previous Total releases.
What isn't missing, however, is the eclecticism of the series. Total 12 manages to touch on almost every style covered by Kompakt, from churning, melodic electronic pop to ambient exercises in sound design. Yet, unlike previous years, this eclecticism doesn't seem as fresh, coming off rather as variations on the same comfortable sound palette.
That's not to say the compilation is bad—it's not. Containing a number of exclusives, as well as some joints that have been burning up dancefloors all summer, Total 12 does have its moments. Label mainstay Superpitcher drops an absolute bomb of an after-hours cut with "White Lightning"; Chilean oddball Matias Aguayo manages to channel the ghost of Frank Zappa on organ-heavy psychedelic freak-out "I Don't Smoke"; and recent Visionquest signees Tale of Us somehow manage to convert GusGus's bloated vocal-trance anthem "Over" into a weirdo tech-house-not-tech-house track with their "Life and Death Remix." And what of the exclusives? Admittedly, not every one of them is a winner, but "Remodernist," the return of Joerg Burger's The Modernist alias, ranks as one of the compilation's higher points, complete with "Big Fun" stabs and a complex, evolving soundscape.
However, the rest of the 12-track compilation is a strange grab bag. Take Wolfgang Voigt's "Frieden," which strives unsuccessfully to mine similar ground as last year's "Clara Wieck," albeit with an injected preciousness that just doesn't feel like it belongs. Similarly, Brazilian minimal superstar Gui Boratto's entry, "The Drill," falls short trying to hide a lazy idea behind a posturing, and ultimately flaccid, digital overdrive.
If well produced—and sometimes overproduced—melodic techno is your thing, then you'll probably enjoy the entirety of Total 12. The less hardcore might be better off cherry-picking the aforementioned positively reviewed singles from their favorite distribution service.