One of the premiere audio auteurs during minimal's reign of the early to mid-aughts—including the release of what many see as the first real "microhouse" album in his 2000 debut, Rest—Rajko Müller's best creations always housed myriad tiny sonic universes. Arguably one of the most "maximal" of the era's minimalists, Müller—AKA Isolée—had a knack for subtle contrasts in texture and tone, but he was also always a conceptual overloader. Perched somewhere between Chicago house, minimal techno, ambient, indie electronica and updated krautrock, Isolée often knit seventeen different intersecting songs into each, which often gave his productions the feel of a one-man live house band. Immediate surface attractions were misguiding; beneath the throb, on headphones say, you couldn't really follow any single line of thought: twirls of tonal play, gentle swirling pads, clockwork rhythm guitar, smeared vocal clips, unrecognizable metallic clanks, all were shifting beneath some of the era's funkiest rhythms.
Following his formative smash "Beau Mot Plage" in 1998 and the release of Rest two years later—both on Playhouse, virtually his exclusive home for almost a decade—Isolée issued several EPs before finally returning with his second full-length, We Are Monster, in 2005. Though the release was a reminder that Müller was still one of microhouse's "grand statement" artists, he's been pretty quiet in the years since the sub-genre's subsided. Aside from the odds n sods collection, Western Store, in 2006, there have been only three EPs since.
For many then, the news that Isolée would re-emerge in early 2011 with a new full-length for DJ Koze's Pampa Records—itself primed for a big first half of 2011 with LPs from Isolée, Robag Wruhme and Koze himself—was enough to put all thoughts of year-end summations behind them, forward-bound. Given the singularity of his aesthetic, it's not surprising that Isolée's third album, Well Spent Youth, bears a marked resemblance to his first two records. It's not as quirky or momentous as Rest nor as propulsive as We Are Monster, but it's clearly the work of an artist continuing to pattern out his own identifiable brand of house music.
There's the muscular, swirling funk of opener "Paloma Triste," with its meandering synths and strange blurts of bass guitar, and the whirring palatial pulse of "Thirteen Times an Hour," which at times almost sounds like a classic house track heard through the grates of an air conditioner. With its spacious synth patterns, "One Box" is calmer and more open, an effortless glide that recaptures the expansion of some of his earliest material, while both "Trop Pres De Toi" and "Transmission" revisit the absinthe vocal tech-pop of "Today," the former in particular sounding like the bizarro universe cousin to Cosmogramma's "Table Tennis."
But as you grow more comfortable with Well Spent Youth, it's hard not to feel that its greatest asset is perhaps its primary weakness. If the album sounds largely like the Isolée we've known for over a decade now, it's also lacking hair-raisers like "Beau Mot Plage," "Tout Se Complique" or "Schrapnell." Müller's keen sense of sound assembly is still as compelling to the ears, but not as persuasive here for the body. Fans will unquestionably be contented to crate the album beside other Isolée favorites, but it's kind of hard to imagine Well Spent Youth reeling in feverish new devotees for the Frankfurt producer. And, frankly, that would be a first.
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Tracklist: Isolee - Well Spent Youth 01. Paloma Triste
02. Thirteen Times An Hour
04. Journey’s End
05. Going Nowhere
06. One Box
08. Trop Près De Toi (97′ Interlude)
09. Hold On
11. In Our Country Paloma Triste
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