It’s been quite a while since we last heard from dubtronic / glitch figurehead Stefan Betke under his Pole alias. Indeed, it’s been a good eight years since his preceding ‘Steingarten’ album, his most recent longplayer, if you don’t count his 2011 ‘Waldgeschichten’ EP series that followed in its wake. Crafted over a three year period, this latest album ‘Wald’ sees Betke using this extended period of absence to reassess his musical processes and in many senses start afresh from a blank slate. From the very outset it’s obvious that the nine tracks collected here (divided into three acts) represent a substantial departure and simultaneous evolution from Pole’s preceding work. Perhaps most noticeably, many of the more opaque and blurred-out sonic textures have been eschewed in favour of a far more ‘sharp focus’ aesthetic that places finely detailed polyrhythms and percussion in the foreground of many of these tracks.
At the same time however these nine tracks see Betke continuing to draw upon the dub influences that have always permeated through his work, and there’s certainly nothing that’s likely to alienate longtime Pole fans here. ‘Kautz’ opens proceedings with skipping hi-hats and ringing percussion tones providing a sense of slow motion dancehall swagger against murmuring sub-bass pulses before the appearance of treated brass stabs signals a turn into more skanking territory, the horn textures getting twisted alongside vamp-y synths. ‘Moos’, one of three live takes here, meanwhile sees the slow ebb of phased synthetic textures providing a serene and calming counterpoint to the spidery fidgeting rhythms that click and rattle beneath, before ‘Myzel’ brings back the sense of loping groove, ushering forth this collection’s most subliminal hip hop moment as crystalline synth tones float against flickering breakbeats and muted bass buzzes.
Elsewhere, ‘Kaefer’ offers up one of this album’s most intriguing excursions as a jagged texture that sounds like it could equally be either a synth or processed guitar bends arcs and scrapes against a pared-back, hypnotic minimal dub backing, the entire track dripping with an atmosphere that calls to mind ghostly blues more than anything else. ‘Wald’ has certainly been worth the extended wait, and longtime Pole fans and new listeners alike won’t be disappointed by what’s in store here.