FJAAK – “Havel” (Proton Promo) [September 27, 2021]

A smoother and more emotionally resonant album than you might expect from the Berlin-based headliner FJAAK, this album focuses on contemplative breaks and understated eddies of synth such that when the kick lands, it means something different.

Felix Wagner and Aaron Röbig have a number of tricks up their sleeve as Havel zips between styles you wouldn’t necessarily expect too hear on a FJAAK release.

It opens with atmospheric broken beat full of chanting like good old fashioned encouragement on a house track. This nearly anesthetizes, preparing you for the jarring tonal and genre leaps that immediately follow it. The next song warns that “they’re going to take your life, take your eyes, forsake your rights” while a striking scorpion’s tail of acid cranks in front, the drums pummeling anxiously.

A yearning, a sort of toughened-up melancholy permeate the synthetic whorls rising like gas on top of the skitter of drums, fizzling into static. You’re immediately hammered by an overdriven, rave-ready kick, expectant stabs glinting overtop.

Sometimes when albums are wall-to-wall with peak time techno rompers, a kind of fatigue sets in, the kick can lose kinetic energy and become more of a punishment. The slinky, layered garage intricacy of tracks like “Apollo Tag 2,” like a lounge gone slightly haywire, serve to deliver the energy where it is needed, instead of overwhelming you with a nonstop redline intensity.

At times, the hypnotic chill deepens where you expect the intensity to rise, a deft maneuver that operates like reverse-drop psychology.

A slowly cavorting, groovy loop of acid becomes the long reverb of bells echoing in a chamber sharpened by stalagmites of icy percussion. An interlude drops off immediately into another walloping kick that sounds exactly like a furious grandmother beating a wet rag within an inch of its life. Funky riffs reminiscent of electroclash or Soulwax tracks come flying out along with the words, “All my friends are in the bathroom.” We can only assume that these friends simply got food poisoning from a questionable roadside Currywurst stand and are waiting for their stomach pain to abate, and are in the bathroom for that reason and that reason only.

The album closes with what starts off sounding like tough breakbeat but transforms into a crisply laid back, slinky rhythm that sounds confidently wistful; like it could be the backbone to a top-tier Rihanna song, once again flouting our expectations. All the stronger for it.

-Winston Mann

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