Various Artists: Kompakt 4

Various Artists: Kompakt 4

Built from a stark set of elements that serve the interests of beats and bass, most dance music doesn't stray far from an emotional palette marked by either out-of-mind ecstasy or general moodiness. Tempos shift and keys change, but even the most moving dance tracks tend to skip past the gray spaces separating happy, sad, scared, mad, and so on. Part of the allure of microhouse, then, is the way it stands not just as a working style, but as an approach to reconciling the groove-based priorities of true dance music with the emotive nuances of ambient, dub, and various shades of electronica that pay little mind to club life. As evidenced by Kompakt 4, microhouse at its best is more than a simple cut-and-paste job. Showcasing 13 tracks from the German label that has been the dance aesthete's best friend of late, Kompakt 4 features songs that shiver and shake beyond the limitations of both small- and large-scale aims. Thomas Fehlmann's "Making It Whistle" mimics a distant junkie's strut, with shadowy beat breaks and sheets of static that summon a slow-motion shudder. Jürgen Paape's "Mit Dir" follows suit by wrapping a poppy German vocal sample in a gauzy shroud, summoning the light and dark interplay that has become Kompakt's stock in trade. Even when patronizing the current trend for electro-pop, Kompakt 4 reaches uncommonly rich highs and lows: Superpitcher's cover of Brian Eno's "Baby's On Fire" starts as a straightforward tribute, but a creeping, barely-in-tune keyboard patch ultimately warps everything in its wake. Scaling the slippery steps between dub and trance, excellent tracks by Wolfgang & Reinhard Voigt, Autobianchi, and Kaito up the impact ante for dance music across the board. When it trails out with Closer Musik's stunning "Maria," Kompakt 4 casts brooding over beauty as a higher calling worth reaching for.

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