There’s little to discuss in writing about Pole’s latest full-length, Pole. Really. In a presumably ambitious stab at contemporary minimalism, Berlin’s Stefan Betke (‘Pole’ to you) combines laptop crackling, dubby beats, and (surprise!) a rapper on this album, which actually compiles Pole’s two most recent EPs. Pole attempts to achieve the downbeat beauty Bowery Electric does, but more abstractly; most of these songs are repetitive, static and largely devoid of small variations or that great groove that minimalist music depends on to maintain any audience interest.
Fat Jon’s rapping redeems this album somewhat, but not enough to pull its head above water. On four of the album’s nine songs (over mostly unchanging music) Fat Jon spits out interesting concepts with lyrical dexterity, but his style is similar to Pole’s music. With nothing to propel the songs he appears on, they’re almost as boring as the ones on which he doesn’t.
“Slow Motion,” the first track, opens promisingly with Fat Jon’s manifesto on time’s domination of humans, but loses steam fast when the lyrics take a turn toward the personal. Like nearly all the songs on this album, there’s no expanse — lyrically or musically. Similarly, “Bushes” shows initial potential with its Kraftwerk-y synth and thudding, dubby beats. But again, the song remains mostly unchanging for several minutes, and the groove isn’t that catchy, anyway. Later, with the appearance of a totally out of place sax solo, it just sounds silly.
The two last songs stand out as the best. “The Bell” is Fat Jon’s strongest appearance, as he raps, without really rhyming, about a sweet, slutty girl and junior high over an ethereally stuttering dub beat. “Back Home” is beautiful ambient pop, like a futuristic Brian Eno.
But two good ones and seven mostly mediocre ones isn’t what you hope for from one of the more acclaimed international deejay/laptop artists working today. Since the character of all these songs is so similar, and the songs themselves so static, Pole serves ably as tuning-out background music. And it would make decent soundtrack music, as most of Betke’s beats sound good for 30 seconds or so. But as a focused listening experience, Pole is far from redemptive.