The "techno boyband"'s second LP struggles to establish a more emotionally sincere sound.
They've done a decent job so far. On last year's self-titled album, they attacked familiar techno, breakbeat and UK club music tropes with so much gusto it was tough to be mad at them for not saying anything too unique. This energy is a big part of their appeal. They head-bang their way through hardware-fuelled live shows, and maintain a stoner's social media presence that's featured subtle japes like this. Not taking things too seriously might be their thing. On Havel, though, it sometimes does sound like they're taking things pretty seriously, and their ongoing lack of originality begins to become an issue.
FJAAK came up under the tutelage of Modeselektor and their labels 50 Weapons and Monkeytown, which makes sense, given their shared love of goofy good times. But on Havel, FJAAK sometimes draw from the more sentimental parts of Modeselektor's catalogue, as well as Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary's music with Apparat as Moderat. You'll hear this on "Version 188.8.131.52," "I Could Never Live Without You By My Side" and "Apollo Tag 2," tracks that feature tears-in-the-rave synths and rousing vocal refrains. Modeselektor could oscillate between silliness and seriousness in a way that feels out of reach for FJAAK—the resonance of the emotion never quite lands. There's a fine line between tender and corny.
The same is sometimes true when they try aggression, something they expressed so effectively in the past. "Take Your Life," in particular, has a hollow air of faux-outrage, as Koogan, a guest vocalist, shouts about them ("the man," presumably) "rap[ing] your mind" over a messy acid line and a broken beat. The most slamming groove on the album underpins "All My Friends Are In The Bathroom," but Koogan's repetition of the title grasps for edgy cool and finds none.
It might be a cop-out to say, "Skip this album and go see FJAAK live," but I'll do it anyway. Tucked in alongside their older material and heard in a raucous, booze-slicked club, even some of the clichés on Havel might sound alright. These tracks are written with the hard-hitting production of FJAAK's earlier work, and the pretty interludes on Havel ("Netto" and "Arctic Warmth") could give the set a little narrative variety. You might also hear "Aniol," the closing track, where FJAAK nail the emotional duality that mostly alludes them on this album.
Sat / 24 Nov 2018
01. Version 184.108.40.206
02. Take Your Life feat. Koogan
03. I Could Never Live Without You By My Side
04. Martin feat. J.Manuel
05. Apollo Tag 2 feat. Fadi Mohem and Tobi Neumann
06. Arctic Warmth
07. **Smells Like Security**
08. Netto (Interlude)
09. All My Friends Are In The Bathroom feat. Koogan, Fadi Mohem and J.Manuel