Midway through a long car trip, your left hand hanging out the driver's-side window into the cool night air, a great song comes on the radio. (I know, I know, this never happens anymore. Indulge me.) As the song chugs through the opening bars, doing its wind-up, you sing the first verse over the intro and your voice and the music stream out together at least until the real vocals start up, echoing your spontaneous performance. ("See?" you think. "I knew all the words.")
Maybe Erlend Øye, the distinctive voice of Röyksopp's "Poor Leno" and
the Norwegian indie duo Kings of Convenience, was behind the wheel when he came
up with the little flourish that lifts his installment in the "DJ Kicks" series
above the faceless mass of mix albums. As Øye spins records, he sings,
doing the car-radio-intro bit over The Rapture's "I Need Your Love," but more
often creating something like an on-the-fly mash-up, grafting melodies both familiar
and un- onto the minimal-techno tracks that make up most of the disc.
When a snippet of "Venus" (by Bananarama or Shocking Blue, take your pick) or "You Were Always on My Mind" floats over an intricate electronic composition, it injects some pop melody into music that is wonderfully textural but that many listeners find repetitive and inaccessible. About half the tracks are electronic, with several coming from Germany's up-to-the-minute Kompakt label, but oddball variety is the rule. The shimmery pop of Phoenix ("If I Ever Feel Better") rubs shoulders with The Rapture's acid-house revival and Avenue D's tasteless raunch ("2D2F"). Best of all, Øye nearly duets with himself on the Silikon Soul remix of "Poor Leno," singing The Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" while his own vocals from the original occasionally bubble to the surface.
Seamlessly meshing all of those elements is difficult, and it's the disc's main weak point. Almost as often as beatmatching, Øye uses tricks like shutting off the turntable or letting a song echo and fade. In one particularly shameless segue shameless enough to work, actually he gets on the mic and announces the next record, "Rubicon" by Alan Braxe and Fred Falke, like an emcee at a wedding reception.
That feeling of cheeky enthusiasm, along with the innovative singing and strong track selection, goes a long way toward making up for a lack of turntable chops. If anything, the party ends too soon, as "Dexter," Ricardo Villalobos' epic of minor-key minimalism, signals a downshift into several quieter tracks. In a line of "DJ Kicks" albums that includes Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation and other heavyweights, Erlend Øye's
contribution is a welcome new voice.