If there's one thing that explains why Cologne's Kompakt Records is the go-to place for brilliant electronic music it's the imprint's dedication to change. It's a rare quality for a micro-house (or a minimal techno, minimal trance, minimal this, minimal that) label to have shifted the genre's stern-faced attempts at keeping things metronomic and bleakly austere. But as Kompakt's Michael Mayer told the Guardian recently: "We like change. We're pitching alternatives. It's a cycle, and we're starting the next attack."
Perhaps it's a tradition instilled in the city's music-makers by its famous Krautrock sons Can and Conny Plank, for there's a devil-may-care attitude at Kompakt that encourages its signings to sculpt ambitious sounds for bedrooms and clubs alike. Dance music shot through with glam, ambience with a seductive undertow, and records that range from The Field's blissful house to the befuddling jungle-pop of Matias Aguyao. Here Aksel Schaufler's Superpitcher serve up Kompakt's latest weighty instalment.
It's markedly different to the ambient disco of his 2004 debut, Here Comes Love, and steers well clear of the only trend that has ever threatened to subsume Kompakt: its artists' love of shoegazing. In fact, Schaufler's second effort is one of the label's most ornate, elegant and emotionally wrought releases - and a terrific example of the label's minimal techno-not-minimal techno aesthetic.
Schaufler is undoubtedly a fellow with a disconsolate worldview and though his cosmic music is lush Kilimanjaro offers a warped representation of the unsmiling record collection he possesses. It segues brilliantly from the eerie digi-dub of Voodoo and grumpy new wave meets Air of Friday Night to grimly foreboding instrumental Moon Fever and Who Stole The Sun, the latter a title that captures his world-weary persona and yet couldn't be further from slack-shouldered thanks to its ominous, strutting nod to dancehall-inflected hip hop, Augustus Pablo and eastern European folk. These songs aren't so much melancholy as curiously troubled.
Schaufler's disembodied, lovelorn vocals aren't particularly engaging but it matters little when he's got songs with such character. Rabbits in a Hurry rides a fat distorted bassline and clip-clop beats; the breathy, twilight disco of Black Magic employs the gently raving synths favoured by Ellen Allien; and, as if to reiterate quite how strange juxtapositions and proper earth instruments can benefit electro-pop, Joanna pairs piano house with a wheezing squeezebox to glorious effect. No wonder it's taken him so long to create this - Kilimanjaro is sublime.