The electronic duo’s latest is a wonder, a record of ambient house grooves filled with hundreds of tiny, captivating details. It’s also a showcase for the unique allure of their German label Giegling.
There was a club in Weimar, Germany where a group of friends let their imaginations run wild. It was really just a house in a park with two dancefloors nestled within its warren-like maze of rooms. Parties sometimes ran for days; house and techno ran parallel with slower, more abstracted sounds: ambient, dubstep, even jazz. The venue was so fundamental to the collective’s sensibilities that on some of the homemade record sleeves for Giegling—the label they eventually founded—they sprinkled dust swept up after their parties into the drying ink.
That idea of a space apart—an autonomous zone, a utopia—continues to fuel Giegling’s efforts. On a recent world tour, they decked out clubs and theaters with candles, bouquets of flowers, and balloons, freely mixing chillout-room vibes and art-school antics with hedonistic, long-haul parties driven by heavy kick drums. Of all the artists on the label—Edward, Ateq, Vril, Traumprinz and his aliases DJ Metatron and Prince of Denmark—Kettenkarussell might best encapsulate that spirit of duality.
Kettenkarussell—the duo of Leafar Legov and Herr Koreander—were the first act to release a record on Giegling in 2009: I Believe You and Me Make Love Forever, a EP of trippy, minimalist house. But it was their 2014 album Easy Listening that really delivered on the label’s unique sensibility with a mixture of twinkling ambient miniatures, moody floor-fillers, and a bookending intro and outro sampling Bruce Lee and Jim O’Rourke, respectively. The Giegling crew can sometimes come dangerously close to self-parody in the pursuit of their sound (DJ Dustin, one of the label’s co-founders, described their aesthetic as “the feeling of seeing a sunset”) but Easy Listening proved that they were not without a sense of humor. An obvious Boards of Canada pastiche, right down to the warbly synthesizers, was called “Chords of Banana”—not just a sly pun on the Scottish duo’s name, but also a tongue-in-cheek riff on their psychedelic, synesthetic titling conventions.
On Insecurity Guard, the label’s two sides fuse together like never before. Rather than being divided into alternating tracks, as they often were on Easy Listening, here they’ve been swirled into one all-encompassing mix of muggy atmospheres and sleek, gliding house grooves, with driving beats wreathed in woodwinds and bells. The opening “Gate” deploys train-track clatter and pensive vibraphones in a way that suggests hurtling forward while standing stock-still, and in the pulse-quickening “Just for a Second,” the kick drum lashes to and fro while harp glissandi rise and fall with liquid grace; big, burly, shadowboxing drums are balanced by chords that feel as reassuring as a hug.
It’s full of tiny, captivating details likely to snap you out of your day and make you look up in wonderment. Halfway through the smooth, frictionless “New York Blues,” staccato synthesizer riffs stray from the tonal center and turn suddenly dissonant and bright, like sharp rays of sun hitting a rain-splashed windshield; then just as quickly, the track settles back down into its rolling, minor-key groove and hypnosis takes over once again. The album’s six-track, 43-minute run feels like a journey in miniature, one that blurs the line between ambient house and peak-time fare, between going up and coming down, depending on the listener’s mood.
They’re still taking cues from Boards of Canada; the backward flutes and jewel-toned synths of the closing “Brueder” tip their hat to the most wistful moments of Music Has the Right to Children. It’s also possible to hear echoes of Nicolas Jaar’s richly textured music, particularly his fusion of acoustic and electronic timbres. Insecurity Guard boasts as sumptuous a sound as you’re likely to hear on a “dance” record. They favor soft, porous timbres, like clarinet and crackling vinyl; they use struck tones with a metallic gleam, like Rhodes piano and mallet instruments. Whether at its softest (the warm, consonant chords of “Everything,” with their shades of Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock) or its heaviest (the fierce, pummeling beat of “Just for a Second”) it’s an overwhelmingly physical recording, one that envelops and caresses, taking advantage of an expansive range of frequencies.
It emphasizes, above all, the pleasure inherent in listening. There are no wasted motions, no unnecessary sounds; every tone unleashes a tiny burst of serotonin. Insecurity Guard is a kind of secret garden, a clearing in the woods, where the mundane falls away and reveals a world of heightened sensibilities.