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Kassem Mosse
Workshop 19 Albert Freeman , May 2nd, 2014 07:20

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Coming from one of the most talked-about, respected artists in underground house and techno, an eight-year wait for a debut solo full-length seems an awfully long time to put off such a long-demanded piece. Of course there were the two albums from last year, one under his The Siege Of Troy alias, and one a collaboration with frequent comrade-in-arms Mix Mup, that did something to satisfy, but respectively an obscure tape release and a mini-album, even one of undoubted quality, hardly calmed the clamoring Kassem Mosse fans. After all, here was an artist who has been justly noted for having one of contemporary electronic music's most original sounds and whose intense, wide ranging, and immersive live sets suggested great things in store when the moment finally did arrive.

Needless to say, Gunnar Wendel is an artist with a certain reputation for being difficult, both on record and in his sometimes-confrontational club appearances, and his preference to split his output under a number of aliases and, even more often, across numbers of 12", meant that he was only going to approach the matter on his own terms. What finally surfaced, again after months delay between the initial small pressing and the more public and widely available one, is Workshop 19, a collection of eight untitled and mostly-unreleased tracks which contain some of his best, most sensual work to-date, but which again leave doors open for speculation. More a double 12" than an album properly both in sequencing and feel, it is, as expected and at different times, willfully obscure, completely experimental, groovy and floor-filling, and gentle and delicate in revealing ways that name it as the artist's most complete statement yet.

Of course, it is just as likely be label policy as artist intent that has led to the current situation: Workshop has only ever released two albums, both Move D projects, and historically was focused nearly entirely on singles. Given that Kassem Mosse ends the B-side with a beatless version of a five-year old Workshop side, it's unlikely that all of the material presented here is even newly recorded, and the label may have slowly been accumulating material for the release that it felt was suitable for Workshop. More than usual for the artist, the tracks seem to be of one piece regarding tempo and feel, but there is only a bare suggestion of a narrative arc across the two plates. Especially the second record, which consists of two extended, experimental floor tracks and an opening ambient gamelan fragment, makes more sense as its own single than as a part of some greater whole. 

Within the bare bones overall structure concerning sequencing and flow, similarities do arise. Both the A1 and the finishing D tread in mellower and jazzier territories, the former favoring dusky vocal and keyboard samples while the latter surprisingly features long, jazzed-out synth solos against a subdued version of his unstable beat work. The ambient tracks, placed end to end at the finish of the B-side and beginning of the C, are interesting but not substantial enough to warrant analysis. The C2 is left standing mostly on its own: it's an extended, dirty (even by his standards) and excellent exercise in abstracted house beat science. Initially featuring one of the full keyboard melodies common to the tracks here, it abandons this after a stark breakdown to go heads down into a filthy, shifting drum machine workout powered by gritty acid bass before eventually descending into raw noise and sampled hums. 

For the remainder, he stuffs six tracks onto the first plate, four of which are devoted to the floor and which constitute the main meat of the record. It doesn't waste any time getting going and by the second piece charges into one of his funkiest, most overtly appealing tracks yet, where a catchy drum hook and a full bass groove, overlain by both a percolating, building pad sequence and fuller keyboard melody, disguise the inherent instability of his rhythm programming. Close listening reveals it to be exactly as twisted as experienced ears would expect, but it is done with such timing and elegance that it go down smoothly almost anywhere. It leads directly into the side-ending A3, where a more propulsive breakbeat feeling in the wild percussion is again counterbalanced by emotive leads and pads; it would be difficult for anyone to pull of the same trick twice, let alone twice in a row, but Wendel somehow manages. 

The remaining pair that open the B side are essentially slightly different takes on similar ideas, with B1 exploding into action after a surprisingly DJ-friendly intro before he goes full-tilt in the central section, where more melodic sections interchange with short segments of intense, repeated crash cymbals. B2 calms down even further for much of its duration but takes a more ominous mood, and the swooping alien noises in the breakdown and afterwards are unnerving to say the least, even if the rhythms are more consistent throughout. The ambient version of 2009's Workshop 08 A1 that finishes the side is nice for the heads but seems an afterthought.

In the end, it's not particularly important how well this holds together or what the overall intent of the artist and label are. Of the eight pieces here, four are amongst the strongest he has ever released and would not ever have fit onto one twelve-inch or furthermore ever been released as one. As a show of the artist's range and versatility, while mostly limited to characteristic experimental house grooves, this makes it perfectly clear why DJs of many genres and stripes gravitate towards his work. Wendel's tracks at every moment suggest and make use of unexplored directions through a spontaneous, sometimes nearly-chaotic approach that threatens to pull the rug out from underneath at any moment but rarely does.

It's this careful, inimitable balance that Kassem Mosse has maintained time and time again, and it sends listeners coming back over and over for sounds that simply aren't possible elsewhere. As a debut album, Workshop 19 is excellent, if oddly sequenced and imperfect, but as a summation of the career of one of the most vital artists in electronic music working today, it is unparalleled. Hopefully it won't take another eight years for him to arrive at this moment again, but given the uniqueness of his vision, even if it did it is unlikely something similar would appear in the intervening time.    

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