Another year, another installment of Kompakt's Total compilations series, and by now we generally know what to expect—a beyond-solid collection of cuts from the label's old guard and new jacks, brimming with a bevy of favorites from the label's recent discography along with a smart selection of unreleased cuts. And while this yearly bounty doesn't quite yeild the shock-of-the-new, holy-shit-how-good-is-this-label frisson that the first couple of Totals may have given some of us—after all, we all know how exceptional Kompakt is by now, and after hearing about a zillion label comps over the course of a lifetime, it takes a lot to truly wow listeners—it would be a huge mistake for house and techno lovers to take the series for granted. Sure, there may have been a few editions, during a period a few years back when the label seemed a bit unsure if itself, that could have been winnowed down from two CDs to a single disc. But this isn't one of them—it's a top-grade, wonderfully wide-ranging volume, with plenty to please those with a yearning for pop-tinged tunefulness, left-field eccentricity, a cascade of emotion, and plain old good music.
The comp grabs you right from the start with the infectious bass throb of Kölsch's "DerDieDas," its earworm of a three-chord melody, staccato vocal sample, hand claps, Mellotron-esque strings and optimistic vibe serving as a setup piece of sorts. But it's not setting us up for a happy-days experience, exactly—the very next track, Audion's "Dam Howl," trades the sunny-day feel of "DerDieDas" for something considerably darker, with Troels Abrahamsen's plaintive, woe-is-me vocals sitting atop its burgeoning squall of minor-key synth work. And so it goes: Disc one is a roller-coaster of emotions riding over a four-four rhythm, as tracks like Patrice Bäumel's hard-charging, festival-friendly "The Vanishing"—kick-drum–free for its first four minutes, its drive is defined by a hyperactive, modulated wood block—alternate with weepies such as Terranova's "Skin & Bones," which has vocalists Bon Homme (a.k.a. WhoMadeWho's Tomas Høffding) and Lydmor asking "could we be happy?" Judging from the song's tone, perhaps not—but, oh, those orchestral strings! It's a beautiful song, which is something that could be said about many of the cuts on this collection. But a few deserve special mention. The spare, bulky trance-tinged synths of Gui Boratto's "22" are reminiscent of early Get Physical fare, but the addition of a skippy breakbeat and plucked guitar work lends the tune a more amiable air than, say, Booka Shade's prime-time material; the lush "Two 0 One," from John Tejada, manages an immensely appealing aura of uplift while retaining a sense of melancholy; Dave DK's equally sumptuous "Smukke Lyde" brims with a subltle, pure sort of grandeur.
If the first disc is the party—albeit an emotionally overwrought party at times (i.e, like a lot of the affairs that we've all actually been to)—then the second CD serves as the after-party, and a somewhat eccentric one at that. It kicks off innocently enough: Coma's supremely chilled "Lora," with its languid rhythm and sunset melody, could be a long-lost cut from the first Café del Mar compilation; it's a song that shows that Kompakt really does have its pop chops down. But things get a bit weirder from there. Saschienne's "Chambre Bleue" is a creeping, eerie oddity, feeling like a tribal incantation set atop an ceaseless sawtooth synth line; Dauwd's "Jupiter George" manages to combine a boogie-flecked bottom end to cosmic filigree, as if Pal Joey had stepped into the studio with Global Communication sometime in the early '90s; and the aptly named "Sicko," from Rex the Dog, boasts stuttering, sliced-and-diced vocals that come across as a phonics lesson for androids. The compilation ends with the Black Frame's undulating, drugged-out, 60-bpm track "Sacrosanct"—a woozy groover that, as much as any song we've heard lately, signifies that the shindig has come to a close. It's a fitting finish to one of the best editions of Total to come along in a while.