Illustration by Moebius
[Live At Robert Johnson]
There are many things to like about Live At Robert Johnson, but from this perspective, the Frankfurt-based label’s real draw card is its forward gaze. During the past 12 months alone, for example, it’s unleashed Roman Flügel’s inimitable Cookie Dust, The Citizen’s Band’s chaotic Broken Rome, and Portable’s earwormy A Process. Though perhaps not everyone would go so far as to call these records futuristic, their quirky, unconventional natures are much harder to deny. Up to a certain point, the label’s final release for 2012 maintains this well-established aesthetic. From the fresh-faced Benedikt Frey — who cut his debut record at the start of this year — Running In Circles shows off two distinct facets of his musical personality.
On the A-side, the namesake track paints drawn-out, ethereal synths onto a stumbling rhythm section. Made up of delayed, not-quite-four-to-the-floor kicks and asymmetrical bass, at times this latter aspect feels like a big wobbly mess. But contrary to immediate impressions, it’s just about right. Any simpler its foundation and “Running In Circles” would lose an essential quality. Any more complex — or perhaps just “broken” — and it’d be too hard to follow. The impact of this distinction points to the simplicity of the cut. At heart, it’s really just a big-room workout, albeit one with slightly more imagination than usual. On the flip, “Closer” can initially feel like a moody slice of Smallville. Here, minor key piano and tocking rimshots enact a gentle dance. As time goes on, they’re joined by increasingly large quantities of slimy chords, which tickle nimbly at the edge of the spectrum, eventually resolving into a more recognizable 303-type gurgle. It’s undoubtedly pleasant, but like its atmosphere-reliant partner, “Closer” isn’t quite the innovative, sparky piece we’ve come to expect from Robert Johnson. Nevertheless, with standards as high as the label’s are, Running In Circles can still be considered somewhat of a front-runner.