In a 2013 interview with FACT, DJ Koze said that he’s “turned on by melancholy.” To hear a techno artist who plays to sold-out nightclubs, Ibiza beach parties, and crowds of nocturnal dwellers say something of the sort was initially confounding, but hearing his music, it’s easy to see how DJ Koze’s iconoclastic output of electronic music is equally ready for both blown-out soundsystems and lonely, tangled pairs of headphones. Hidden in the corners of the club are intangible bubbles, mixed bags of feelings, waiting for the right drop to burst. And who better to move that process along than Stefan Kozalla? The looming monolith of techno always loomed over creators far and wide, but Koze had different plans. His welcoming, genre-agnostic self could suddenly help 88 BPM feel as much at home as 130 always had.
2013’s Amygdala may have been one of the most intriguing and criminally overlooked electronic albums that year. From one vibrant, pulsating composition to the next, DJ Koze encapsulated the joys and pitfalls of being human with a treasure trove of sample-heavy deep house. A world of guitar strokes, earth-shattering bass, and relentless movement stood shoulder to shoulder with everything from the dissonant refrains of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to the mournful vocalizations of Hildegard Knef. Add stellar guest appearances by the likes of Matthew Dear, Milosh, and Caribou and it became apparent that Amygdala was an exciting in-depth investigation of emotion, whose kaleidoscopic sensibilities and pastel-colored melancholia stayed true to the album’s namesake.
If his previous full-length was a shade too blue to be a “true” techno album, Knock Knock is Koze’s beating heart of a record with the vitality of a child refusing to sit still. Wondrous and touching, the album bears little resemblance to Koze’s techno and house peers. Rather, it sits in a bold corner of its own, drawing inspiration from the disparate galaxies of dream pop, crackling funk, angular trip-hop, and ASMR-inducing ambience. And while much of the album finds Koze re-adopting some of the tried-and-tested methodologies of blissed-out electronica, he doesn’t compromise on keeping things constantly engaging, thanks to a relentlessly imaginative approach to genre blending.
Devoted Koze-heads will relish in tracks like “Pick Up,” which are instant throwbacks to the luxurious, balearic vibes of Andrés and Pepe Bradock. Sibling cuts like “Seeing Aliens” wash over with an effortless, open-armed embrace. For those less engrossed with the world of Roland 808’s and breakdowns, it’s each sticky melody, crooning vocal ditty, and uplifting string section that pulls you deeper into the record’s warm, inviting environment. Kicking things into high gear, second track “Bonfire” deliciously manipulates a sample of Bon Iver’s autumnal “Calgary” into a head-nodding delight. The early placement of the track serves as Koze’s aesthetic statement: a truly extraterrestrial kind of house music that’s not quite right for a deafening dancefloor, but perhaps for the sound system inside a car speeding past it in the dead of night.
Lying underneath the balmy sheen of this entire record is the core personality of a pop music lover; the tumultuous journey toward shining, glorious melodies is one that must be achieved here, regardless of the vehicle. And so, things also take a moody turn quite often; Róisín Murphy’s enigmatic vocal performances throughout are placed atop understated nocturnal shuffles; if songs like “Moving In A Liquid” reflect the glory of a perfect sunrise, deeper cuts like “Scratch That” are the unsettling sunsets that precede them. The pensive cloudiness of “Muddy Funster” contrasts nicely against the twinkling refrains of the cleverly titled “Baby (How Much I LFO You.)” Even “Music On My Teeth,” which sounds like a customer-support-please-hold music-induced psychedelia, bursts with understated color.
Vocals, both sampled and performed, play a critical role in constructing the album’s sound. Breaking down the complex layers of gospel vocals and Sophia Kennedy’s emphatic phrasing is a legitimately difficult task, as words and sentences bleed into each other to create sprawling, expansive chaos. Both her and the aforementioned Murphy bring charismatic performances that feel tailor-made for Koze’s psyched-out compositions. And when you see Kurt Wagner on the guest vocal roster for a deep house record, you know you’ve struck gold.
And then we have “Planet Hase,” which plays host to an undeniably creepy surprise in its final minute: a fuzzy, voicemail tone-like voice singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands” in no discernible key. But this moment is no more surprising than a reverb-drenched lap steel on top of a sawtooth bass line, an acidic keyboard lead dotted by a glockenspiel, and a million voices singing in wildly ecstatic harmony. Knock Knock is full of surprises, and Koze is floating, in a meditative stance, watching over your shoulder as you revel in its resplendent glory.