Writing album reviews for dance music right now is in hiatus. Reviewers nowadays are in strange position – on one hand there is the pressure from labels, who actually prefer their release not to be reviewed, rather than the release being labelled as bad or mediocre. This is understandable in the current economic situation in which labels operate – less risk – more chances to make profit. On the other hand, in the reality of social networks as a way we all consume the internet everyone is a critic. Sometimes people easily prefer to go with the opinion of the masses rather than rely on media’s opinion. There is also another reason why it’s getting harder to write about dance music and it’s like an elephant in the room – albums in this industry are mainly treated as tools for acquiring more press coverage and therefore more gigs. This is not news but it’s getting more obvious than ever. Sometimes the heavily promoted album feel so insincere to the point that there is a general lack of soul.
Luckily we have an opportunity to try to revive our duty as reviewers with the release of the second album from KiNK a.k.a the Bulgarian producer Strahil Velchev which kinda require our attention as Bulgarian outlet. The LP is called Playground and this time is released for the influential label Running Back owned by Gerd Jansen. In a tech breakdown for the album for Mixmag, KiNK admits that he had the epiphany in which direction the sound will go after some heavy jamming in his studio. This really explains the title in every way, because when you listen to it you can feel the raw energy of his live sets, with a little studio polish and some sonic deviations for the 4×4 format here and there to make the whole affair a bit more sophisticated. The whole thing sounds like it’s executed in a very playful way. Written like this it’s sounds kinda obvious, but actually we find it more honest than obvious.
We know that Strahil have a sweet tooth for some poppy productions – his collaborations with his girlfriend, the amazing Rachel Row proved that already. Yet he stay away from the temptation to create something which will eventually show him in a different more pop-oriented light. We admit that the album format is a good opportunity to exercise that, but honestly most of the dance music artists fall graciously in this affair. We saw many mediocre examples of artists trying to do something which totally deviates from their original dancefloor sound. The result often is easily forgettable productions which heavily relate on featuring artists and vocalists. Well, our hero had a diva in his sleeve who can spice up every tune in the album, but all we can hear from her is very effective vocal hook in the the glorious Samodiva (Samodiva is a mythical female creature from the Bulgarian folklore).
Strahil managed to create an honest snapshot of who he is and in what he is good at. There are euphoric tunes like The Russian or Teo Techno which transports you directly into the middle of his live sets. There are also breaks and funk influenced beats (Suncatcher, Samodiva), some mellow moments (Soar and The Universe In Her Eyes) and some industrial electronica in A Taste of Metal. We know Strahil adores Aphex Twin and we see that clearly in Peter Plet Plete which intentionally brings memories for the IDM era.
There are occasional cheeky melodies which Strahil often use in his productions and proven very effective and great example of this is the track Perth, which is an ideal combo of disco influenced strings and his euphoric style and is something like a peak in the LP – if somehow you didn’t had the desire to shake it up during the first part of the album, then Perth definitely should do it.
KiNK manages to deliver an album that checks in every way – it has some intellectual pretence with it’s highs and lows, mixed with some “made in Sofia” electronica, without deviating sharply from the dancefloor productions that made him relevant in the first place. His honest approach to the album format once again wins our like and approval of his artistry.