With electronic music swinging the way of disco and dubstep in terms of popularity, Anja Schneider and her wildly well-liked Mobilee imprint are stuck in a quandary, being as they are flyers of the minimal techno flag, the once-monopolizing sub-genre that has fallen out of favor in the past year or so.
In the face of an altering electronic-music landscape, how do they maintain the success and influence they have built over the last three years? Schneider is smart and talented enough to know that her brand of techno just needed a jolt of personality, which is exactly what Beyond the Valley exudes. On reputation alone, the album will be generalized under the minimal techno banner, but Beyond the Valley is brimming with inviting hooks, clever songwriting and, most important, a humanity that will be enticing to home listeners as well as dancers.
In his review of Ellen Allien’s SOOL, my colleague William Rauscher theorizes on the importance of the “human” quality that lacks presence in much electronic music. Electronic music’s accessibility has always been jeopardized by this lack of “humanity,” and the artists who make a concentrated effort to embed the complexities of their feelings into the music never fail to make a lasting impression. Aware of that, Schneider keenly litters Beyond the Valley with fragments of voice, instrumental warmth and subtle alluring hooks.
Take album opener “Safari,” where instead of commencing with a slow buildup into the apex of the track, Schneider flaunts her hooks before the kick drum is even introduced. She builds the track by transmogrifying the hook and interspersing vocal loops with her 4/4 backbone, resulting in an upfront, honest, rewarding song.
“Mole” is the obvious club burner, with understated tribal drums and a shifty melody that never shows itself completely — which means its mysteries reward deeper listenening as well. The most inveigling moment of the album is its most surprising. “Fish at Night” features Schneider’s own vocals up front, with minimal instrumentation and no 4/4 beat in sight. This puts all the focus on the vocal performance, and it’s incredibly charming, partly because it must have been difficult for Schneider to include such a personal song and also because it is a welcome change of pace at the end of an already enjoyable album.
Schneider’s decision to craft an album so infused with her personality was wise. Instead of Mobilee becoming just becoming another face in the crowded minimal techno scene, Schneider’s influence should permeate down the roster. I hope it will, because Beyond the Valley’s highlights bear being repeated and filtered through various personalities. Schneider has made minimal techno fun again, something only Ricardo Villalobos has been able to do recently.