Don’t worry, Koze’s got you covered.
Can we get a toast for the weirdos? For every GOAT conversation about Jordan or LeBron, Dennis Rodman and Dr. J deserve equal time. We need our Weens as much as Radioheads. Perhaps not for standalone excellence or influence, but for how they warped the realms around them by sheer force of personality. Critical acclaim in the 2010s electronic scope has, rightly, focused on the exploits of Nicolas Jaar, Floating Points and Jon Hopkins: all serious students of the craft, exploring and expanding the boundaries of their genre. But what of the pranksters playfully poking at the same extremes, yet more interested in booty shaking and humor than nuance and rigorous study?
Please step forward, DJ Koze, professional jester. This is a man who titled a compilation album Music Is Okay and used a William Shatner monologue as his DJ set’s emotional climax. But that’s not to undercut his craft. The effusive sense of joy that pervades Knock Knock wouldn’t be possible without such a deft hand at the turntables and whoopee cushions.
With Koze releasing his first full-length since 2013, there’s no better reintroduction to the Hamburg DJ than the magisterial stroll of opener “Club der Ewigkeiten.” Though starting with stately, cold strings, Koze soon splices in a Disney-esque motif carried by violins and shimmering vocals. It’s a relaxed warm-up, but with the exact amount of radiance needed to set the sunny bar somewhere in the stratosphere. With introductions out of the way, Koze gets down to the dancefloor. “Bonfire” stomps righteously with rubbery bass the size of monster truck tires. The elevating duo of “Moving in a Liquid” and “Colors of Autumn” follow with respective guests Eddie Fummler and rapper Speech wrestling with the player lifestyle and possibilities of commitment. Meanwhile, Koze piles on the charming guitar stabs, galactic basslines and utterly wonky vocal melodies.
Those aren’t even the weirdest guests, with troubadour José Gonzalez popping up in the next song, his glossy voice virtually turning “Music on My Teeth” into a Bibio track. Koze delights in small, woozy moments, seemingly asking “hey, you’re not just dancing right? Pay attention!” “This Is My Rock” continuously threatens to explode with a bluesy turn from Sophia Kennedy and autumnal piano licks, but its content to tease to the finish line. “Pick Up” is an experiment in just how little instrumentation Koze can get away with while still calling it a dance track. All of two chords, one vocal sample and three guitar notes make up the bulk, but damn it if it doesn’t flawlessly work. The complete lack of layers makes the sudden flash of tambourine ecstatic. It’s the world’s flimsiest drop, and Koze is very, very aware, grinning the entire time.
Koze also injects a fair amount of melancholy into the procession. “Pick Up” samples Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” and turns it oddly uplifting. The downtempo crawl of “Scratch That” could be a missing Massive Attack gem with Róisín Murphy adding some slinky sadness. And if Kurt Wagner of mopey Lambchop appears on an album, you know there’s some Eeyore-ing about.
But Koze always has a delight hiding around the corner. Effortless love song “Baby (How Much I LFO You)” blends wonky, old-school dubstep and Motown samples into something sublime. There’s also the nutty vocoder line on “Jesus,” which, with no featured guests, we’re forced to assume Koze sings himself. “Lord Knows” has him dipping back into his boom-bap days (he was a rap producer in the ‘90s) with a protect-ya-neck beat that makes sitting still nearly impossible. Closer “Drone Me Up, Flashy” appears to be in Knock Knock’s somber camp. Kennedy is the central star again, although she’s now singing in stuttering German. At first, her vocals seem icy in comparison to the blushing panoply around her. But as her voice rises, she’s opening herself (and the song as a whole) up to the world. It’s a ravishing thrill, Koze giving us a little lullaby to cool down to and drift away into pleasant, laughing-gas dreams.
But what else should we expect from Koze but hallucinatory pleasures? He aims for the revelatory, not on a political or spiritual level, but purely through the dancefloor. On mid-album stunner “Illumination,” Murphy breaks character to say, “I need a bit of light here.” Don’t worry, Koze’s got you covered.