In 2010, Hamburg producer Christopher Rau delivered a confident, charmingly slight debut album in the form of Asper Clouds. Like many of the releases on Smallville, its label, Asper Clouds conveyed a homey, intimate take on house, drawing the listener in on the virtue of what it wasn’t. Rau has put his name to a series of 12″s in a similar style since, but Two, again released via Smallville, is that record’s proper follow-up. It follows its predecessor in breeziness, but with markedly less success.
In its unassuming nature, Asper Clouds set the bar for a second album at a strange level. Nothing in Rau’s catalogue suggests that record was a low-key prelude, and even the producer’s recent flurry of 12″ activity, ostensibly more aimed at the dance floor, has been a far cry from epic. Still, he might be expected to deliver a statement with a bit of heft, especially given the refined contours of releases like Marbled World, a recent EP that stands as some of his best work. Instead, Two feels every bit as nondescript as its title, more a collection of disparate tracks than a fully-formed album.
On opener, “Apple Snapple Tracking,” Rau deploys looping strings no doubt sampled from a soul or exotica record, which immediately lend it a pleasant, if saccharine, wooze. Underlining it with a steppy rhythm and twitchy accoutrements, the producer pushes the track in a garage direction. It comes across clumsily, however, as the sounds are less interwoven than stacked on top of one another. “Swag Lude,” meanwhile, is more sparing in its use of sampled strings, but falls victim to the same problem, as it’s pervaded by ugly cut-ups and random splices of plucked strings. One gets an acute feeling that many of the tracks here were rushed, or perhaps even left unfinished. Rau certainly seems of the tier of producers who could record an album in a matter of days, but much of his appeal comes from how his tracks sound so intensively stripped to their essentials.
There are a few bright spots. “Weird Alps,” for example, recalls Tevo Howard or Omar-S in its slightly ominous, economical arrangement, with sputtering hi-hats meeting a syncopated monotone synth while a whistle percolates in the background. Certain tracks like, “Ciao,” the finale, or the lightly fluttering “Girl,” have a gentle beauty, but don’t lead anywhere in particular, while “High” finds Rau attempting to work his trademark airiness into a more rigid electro format with meager results. Granted, Rau’s throwaways — assuming these are throwaways — still best albums by a number of producers. There’s a slyness to Two that suggests the artist is simply enjoying himself in the studio, and such a casual approach is always welcome. But one would be advised to stick to his recent 12″s to hear what he is truly capable of.