Angel Kauff’s been committed to a resolutely analogue sound on the first two records from his Stockhaussen project, and he turned his interests in vintage synths to decidedly coldwave ends on those releases. Without totally moving away from that ethos, Kauff makes some moves towards brighter, or at least peppier, dancefloors with XII. Without betraying his analogue roots or the tense mood of his previous work, here he’s bridging the gap between coldwave and a range of synthpop sounds, often with the help of some notable guests.
The move from sparser coldwave arrangements to more spritely tunes seems to have been no great chore for Kauff as he punches in busier sequences with aplomb. Kauff’s ability to slide in amidst the classic synthpop milieu he’s honoring on XII is nicely demonstrated on “The System”, which features a guest spot from Canadian synthpop OG Tracy Howe of Rational Youth. As luck would have it I saw Rational Youth perform this past weekend, and I couldn’t help but think about how much of Howe’s work both old and new fits well alongside Kauff’s. Both use the bounce and light percussion of their music as something of a feint, putting the often grim themes of their work in sharper contrast.
“The System”‘s followed up by mid-album highlight “Una Posibilidad”, which sticks a simple but imposing vocal chorus over a dead simple synthline to great effect. Simultaneously connoting Din [A] Tod, Welle:Erdball’s NDW fixation, and even Men Without Hats, it’s a testament to how Kauff’s less-is-more arrangements work on XII. A very different mood comes over “Face Of God”, though, when Bestial Mouths’ Lynette Cerezo arrives. Cerezo’s vocals are as distinctive as they are dramatic, and Kauff doesn’t try to swim against their current, and sets aside the bounce which otherwise dominates the record for a suitably slow and echoing piece, recalling his decidedly darker earlier work.
Closing things out is a collaboration with Cimientos Fecundos, a new Columbian act of whom I have to admit ignorance. The result carries no small amount of italo disco in its bubbling, up-tempo arpeggios and simple bass, but between the minor key and the impassive vocals, a sinister pall is cast across “Movimientos Telúricos”, recalling the cold disassociation of Kirlian Camera’s early italo-noir releases. That combination of light and dark is as good an encapsulation as any of the move Kauff’s made with XII: keeping one foot in an icy origin while testing somewhat warmer climes with the other.