Review: NHK'Koyxeи - Dance Classics Vol.I

Even for someone with no previous exposure to the music of Kouhei Matsunaga (such as myself), a quick glance at his collaborative history is enough to suggest the eclecticism of his artistic output: partnerships alongside the blistering volume of Merzbow right the way through to the ambient micro-movements of Asmus Tietchens, ticking off the likes of Conrad Schnitzler and Autechre’s Sean Booth in between. On the basis of Dance Classics Vol.I, Booth is perhaps the most obvious collaborative cohort; the album utilizes a similar mix of elasticated electronic jitter and those reverb-laced synthesizer backdrops, albeit with a sturdier 4/4 as a rhythmic basis. Many of these tracks aim for a hypnotic sway and head-nod – blissed out, eyes closed – rather than the more energetic and assertive dance gestures, carving out mid-tempo grooves that parallel the stodgy pacing of hip-hop.

Strangely enough, the album’s first few bars look set to fly into high-velocity drum and bass; the punchy synthesizer riff and haphazard splash of drum machine cymbals on “567” seem itching to let loose like a shot, only for it to gradually drag itself to its feet at half the expected tempo. From here on in, Matsunaga builds up a gorgeous electronic with which to toy with the idea of space and distance – reverb is applied in both moderation and reckless excess, with the track’s main synthesizer motifs breaking out of their sterile quantization to flood imaginary cathedral walls. In fact, the album’s first batch of tracks are the strongest by a stretch. The quivering staccato harmonies of “476” entwine beautifully over the track’s rolling 6/8 rhythm, while “638” arrives as a reverberant synthesizer mist, possessive of a mysterious gloom that brings to mind earlier Boards of Canada works.

Two brief interludes – both comprised of sporadically placed notes, bouncing off of eachother like reactive molecules – act as the bridge into a slightly less enthusing second half. The groove here on in feels more complacent, either reprising the mood of earlier tracks or wringing solitary ideas dry: “55” steps the tempo up toward techno, cycling between various drum machine inflections without a sense of purpose to drive it forward. Meanwhile, “530” clings to its unwavering hip-hop drum loop and leaves it to stagnate beneath synthesizers plonked nonchalantly on the rhythmic upstrokes. The closing three-minutes offer something of a last-gasp recovery though: a spiraling electronic sample unwinds like an underwater music box, writhing between various shapes as the listener’s sense of orientation is teased by dizzying frequency sweeps. Plenty to enjoy here, with this last track acting as a reminder to head straight back in to the stellar first half.