For the label's tenth annual installment, J, he's turned to many faces associated with the imprint, including Nick Curly, Extrawelt, Loco Dice, Dubfire, and longtime Ibiza reveler Ricardo Villalobos. But with contributions from established producers not typically linked to the Frankfurt label like DJ Koze, Pantha du Prince, and Moritz von Oswald, from the surface J's tracklist is arguably as intriguing as any since the series' infancy.
Distancing itself from what was a slightly more house-oriented collection last year, J returns to the dark-hued, strident techno that made the brand a decade ago. Opening with the lumbering bass and ornamental synth patterns of Moritz von Oswald's excellent, sinuous "Cocoon Dark Dub"—for many, likely to be the biggest draw here—the compilation sets its dead-of-night tone right from the outset; it's one matched by the mesmeric bounce of Mathias Kaden's "Rave Strikes Back," the clanging bells and dizzy synth pulses of Dubfire's hedonistic "Rejekt" or the black-moon melody and harsh dissonance of Extrawelt's "Simpleton." Label newbie Basti Grub & Komaton's hypnotic bit of damaged vocal techno "Sick" is particularly exceptional.
Elsewhere, J tracks disorientation through oddity. DJ Koze's trademarked vocal play on "Sbooty"—made to sound almost like a hiccup here, layered into stuttering rhythms—foregrounds trills of some tribal flute-like instrument and the sudden noisy blurt of a broken horn. It's busted, jumbled, completely out of rhythm and yet marked by Koze's ability to make the willfully bizarre sound so immediate.
Another strange headfuck, if more minimally dosed, Ricardo Villalobos' "Humusweg" submerges you in whirring drones and brief waves of static before a wintry tonal melody emerges from the sonic surf. Like much of his work, in its sonic intricacy is a carefully crafted detour both intimate and somewhat withdrawn, offering up its surface secrets without divulging its greater truths. In fact, even if Pantha du Prince and Loco Dice turn in unimaginative retreads of past successes, "Humusweg" alone would demand sliding J into the collection alongside the run's better editions. But Villalobos is surrounded by mostly sure-handed productions here, by vets and rooks alike. Whether or not it predicts Ibiza heavies is ultimately immaterial; J should get plenty of spins in the sanctity of your air-conditioned apartment.