Sven Vath – Contact

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

The madly prolific German DJ and musician Sven Vath has never really been able to match the impact of his debut album, 1992’s ACCIDENT IN PARADISE. Whereas ACCIDENT successfully tapped into the trance / ambient vibe of the time, subsequent efforts like “THE HARLEQUIN, THE ROBOT AND THE BALLET DANCER seemed self-indulgent, and, even worse, highly derivative.

CONTACT is his latest effort, the fourth ‘proper’ Sven Vath album, and his umpteenth release as a recording artist. It immediately strikes you as a departure from his previous work. The album has a definite order to it, opening with the Kraftwerk-style bleeps of PATH FINDER. The minimalist electronics continue on into EIN WAGGON VOLLER GESCHICHTEN, with some interesting vocal manipulation adding to the hypnotic atmosphere.

The bass first appears on track three, YDOLEM, a more spacey, Orbital-style number, which leads into the squelchy bass and driving beat of DIEN SCHWEISS, evoking THE ORB’s ‘Toxygene’. So far so interesting. Unfortunately, the nine-minute long SMUGGLER erodes the momentum that the album has so far managed to build. The glassy samples and stripped-down beat don’t help and, pretty soon, the boredom starts to set in.

Everything stays bleepy for the title track, although a kind of samba rhythm finds it way into the mix, while the imposing Orbital-style minor chords of the subsequent ONCE MORE are really rather good. Shame it’s one of the shortest tracks. The clanking minimalism returns all too quickly with STRAHLEMANN & SOHNE.

Track nine, APRICOT, has more to recommend it: its processed Germanic vocals lend it an early industrial feel, especially as it evolves into 80s synthpop halfway through. It is followed by PRIVADO, an ambient epic that sounds like early Orb mutating into The Future Sound Of London. After this nine-minute extravaganza, the noodlesome RAUM SAFARI seems a bit of a let-down.

By far the most bizarre track is saved for last. AGENT P. is three and a half minutes of sheer weirdness. It’s the soundtrack to a non-existent detective story, a lounge jazz number with a bassline nicked from FEVER, parping horns, maracas and what sounds like Mr Vath tapping the rhythm on a table. It also has a disgusting chorus of belching halfway through. Quite why, God only knows.

I guess Kraftwerk and Orbital aren’t bad points of reference for an electronic album, and it is encouraging to see that Sven Vath has experimented with a number of ideas, even if not all of them are successful. Whether there’s enough here to hold long term interest is debatable. Every time a decent sound crops up, you wonder why the rest of the album doesn’t sound as good.

3 stars