Jonsson / Alter, 2

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[Kontra-Musik]

Henrik Jonsson and Joel Alter really are the black sheep of Kontra-Musik, the only label that handles their music. Sure, they come from Sweden like its owner, Ulf Eriksson. But there the similarities seem to end. The pair’s balmy brand of house is otherwise hard to reconcile with the gritty, industrialized techno he usually signs up. Clearly, Eriksson sees something pretty special in the duo’s work. Special enough to warrant five singles and an album for a label as techno as Jeff Mills, in fact. The craziest part is, none of it might ever have happened. Jonsson/Alter’s breakout record — 2011’s Mod — was a happy mistake, the result of a chance meeting in Berlin and some casual jam sessions.

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2, the pair’s second full-length, is the conscious opposite — the result of a carefully planned studio campaign rather than a spontaneous huddle in Alter’s bedroom. And it sounds like it, too. Where Mod‘s six full tracks and brief intro barely constituted an album, this follow-up offers far more meat.┬áMore to the point, though, it shows just how much better the duo have gotten to know one another. Gone are their loopy, Spartan compositions of yesteryear, to be replaced by a lush, approachable form of house even further removed from Kontra-Musik’s regular output.

On paper, this larger, more considered dose of Jonsson/Alter material seems like a no-brainer. And true to form, 2 is littered with killer tracks. The sentimental “En Melodi,” with its simple piano and bell riffs; the syrupy “Praha,” and its woozy but lockstep chords. Or the skeletal “Tuffa Sig,” where gentle synths color the spaces between thunderclapping percussion. As ever, such tracks showcase a remarkable skill for patient progression. Nothing ever seems to actually change or happen — listen to the rare crescendo in “Tribunen” for proof otherwise — but like eating a giant bag of potato chips, it’s almost impossible to stop gorging, even though every chip tastes the same as the last and you’re not even that hungry any more.

It’s no easy task, hammering at the same button for minutes at a time. But even at their most verbose, Jonsson/Alter have a knack for minor variation that renders their tunes hypnotic rather than tedious. In the elegant “Svalor,” for instance, filters do all the work arrangement would usually, shifting burnished strings in and out of focus over muscular kicks. Such moments have undeniable appeal, and may even constitute the duo’s best work to date. Delivered in one big, hour-long hit though, and the heavy-handed beats that underpin every track but “Praha” can start to wear, in spite of the gorgeous melodies that mask them.

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Where Mod had a relaxed and sketched-out vibe that only “Hela Berget” seriously challenged, 2 has a persistent intensity which seems to speak of long hours spent working in the studio, rather than hosting fun, informal jams. This doesn’t render any of the tracks less impressive, of course. But taken as a whole, 2 feels more like an all-consuming straight-line trek than the winding, laid-back trip its predecessor was. Still, for those who operate on a cherry-picking basis, it’s likely to provide more fruit than any other house record this year.

nathaniel  on November 13, 2013 at 3:00 AM

AOTY.

Prosti  on November 13, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Warm laminated limbs. Gentle wafts of tapioca.

These filter judge without prejudice.

A new art of slow, patient masterbation.

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