That Betke would tire of a narrow style was only natural, but his attempts to break out of it—the spotty leftfield hip-hop of Pole and 2007's Steingarten, a more orthodox electronica album—weren't so impressive. Now he's done something better.
In their half-stepping rhythms and general air of tropical heat, "Wurzel (Live)" and "Aue (Live)" demonstrate Betke's enduring love of dub reggae. But there's a new playfulness to these tracks, and a new richness in their production that dispels any notions of nostalgia. The rest of Wald goes way out there. Its basic sonic architecture is classic Pole—sparse and glitchy, heavyweight bass, screeds of sizzling, laptop-processed interference—but it sounds almost like an alien offshoot of modern bass music.
Betke's complex work has never been so joyful, free and emotionally rounded. This is especially true of "Moos (Live)" and "Myzel," where Wald kicks into gear. The former's wistful pads and burrowing basslines bring Zomby to mind, but the percussion—springy, tinny and rattling—and the rising heat of processed guitars are closer to Fennesz. Betke handles these elements with confidence, creating a track that is at once sad, funky and fraught with tension. It may lack a traditional melody, but in its knotty twangs and pings, "Moos (Live)" is a total earworm. Despite its experimental textures, the Plaid-ish "Myzel" has the feel of an Ibiza sunset classic in its languid synths and slow-swinging rhythms.
This is a record of great technical skill and imagination, and one that's also nonetheless soulful and sincere. It's a testament to Betke's artistic integrity that he waited patiently for eight years, only releasing Wald because he had something fresh and distinctive to offer.