FJAAK-FJAAK: Album Review

Berlin’s FJAAK certainly take the city’s club scene under their wing, however, their album is much more than an electronic dance record.  Rather than building their songs atop some sort of bassy beat foundation, FJAAK only use their pummeling beats as a sort of stabilizing agent, sometimes to tie together sparse melodic ideas and other times to cut through an icy, ambient environment.  Also, besides the few relentless pummeling tracks, FJAAK channels the likes of Oval for some beautiful, shimmering moments.  There’s even less of the constant up and down action of dance music records as FJAAK spends huge swaths of time subtly changing beats before stripping down to a barren place or sucking all of the air out of a tune to smash speakers with some brooding bass.  The album might not be the most emotionally heavy work, but it definitely offers surprises throughout.

The record first spouts some rather sporadic electrified sound effects, before a nicely textured rhythm comes into the equation to solidify things.  It’s interesting how the two main elements of the song are isolated then thrown together in the same space.  This helps the group achieve a dynamic sound without having to rely on huge fire power as tension is resolved by putting pieces together rather than turning up the volume.

“Wolves” moreso hits you over the head with intensity as a huge, brooding bass beat runs throughout.  Still, the group provides a stark shift in mood at around the halfway point, when the track dives into a short ambient sprawl.  The gloomy synthesizer backdrop of the bridge makes the second half of the track shoot into a much darker emotional direction than the bright beginning.  Again, there’s a large amount of contrast in the track without turning to cheap strategies.

“Fast Food” takes the idea of compartmentalizing to extreme heights as the track seems to either isolate a steady, climbing pitch or a hard-hitting beat. Perhaps this track even provides a bit of commentary on the EDM community as entire minute-long sections of the song are dedicated to this heightening pitch that really puts the track on edge before delving into a dance-able beat.  The beat also doesn’t really punch at a super steady clip, more interacting with the bouncy electronic elements above it; it feels a bit ironic to have such a huge build.  Next, the group gives the first full-fledged shot at ambient music with twinkling, programmed synth opening for “Snow.”  Again, we see a beat coming into the equation to sort of ground everything around it, but here the beat is very much influenced by the environment that it’s jumping into.  Rather than the deep, pounding beats of previous track, “Snow” sort of touches a light-hearted mood with rhythmic elements rooted in a slightly higher register.  We see in these two tracks how much risk the group is willing to take.

“Sixteen Levels” and “Gewerbe 15” are probably the most brutal tracks on the record.  Both punch heavily throughout and tap into the idea of sucking all the headspace out of the room to completely focus on darkness.  Still, FJAAK leave enough room for some beautiful melodic moments as we see towards the end of “Gewerbe” with this nice beam of light over the bleak atmosphere.

“Offline” gives the listener some relief with a bit of Oval-induced, subdued texture.  What’s interesting here is that the record spent the past two songs hammering home such stagnant beats, but this track never really finds its footing.  The idea of tension remains it’s just more rooted in structure than in outward violence.

The final two tracks on the record touch upon some completely different sounds.  “Against the Clock” begins with the most instrumental sounding beat on the record as we’re treated to a sort of funk, backbeat drum kit.  Over the course of the seven minutes, the track sort of molds into the band’s synthetic atmosphere, but the slight acoustic lean remains present.  On “Fjkslktr,” Modeselektor jumps in and gives a bit of a Daft Punk melodic sound for a final reorganization of the band’s sound.

Perhaps the strongest attribute of FJAAK is the variation that the group is able to achieve.  Every track offers something different, while also falling back on the group’s beats to tie up the loose ends.  Emotionally, the group could offer a bit more.  This project is certainly more about experimenting with electronic music form than throwing together some lyrical melodies, but the occasional beautiful moment comes through, making for a memorable effort.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Listen/Purchase: https://fjaak.bandcamp.com/

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