Anjunadeep 05 / Mixed by Jody Wisternoff and James Grant (Album Review by John Koch)
by TeemunnyPublished on Friday, July 26, 2013
Anjunadeep, the house music imprint of trance record label Anjunabeats, has produced its annual double-disc compilations since 2009. Anjunadeep’s “annuals” regularly feature the top tracks from artists on its roster, remixes made for well-known outside artists (such as Radiohead, BT, and Underworld), and recordings exclusively created for each compilation, all mixed by Anjunadeep’s (and Anjunabeats’) resident DJs. Because Anjunadeep is renowned for discovering the most talented house producers and shaping their work into a signature sound, each addition to the Anjunadeep series has been met with great anticipation by fans of the genre. Never before has the anticipation been so great, or so richly rewarded, as with this year’s Anjunadeep 05.
To explain the heightened anticipation, I will provide a brief history of the events leading up to 05. 01, mixed by Above & Beyond—themselves the trio of DJs who founded Anjunabeats, and who had released Anjunabeats Volume 7 by that point—came seemingly out of nowhere but to critical acclaim in February 2009. 02 through 04 were mixed by James Grant, who is the current head of Anjunadeep, and Jaytech, a popular Australian DJ whose music spreads across both Anjunadeep and Anjunabeats.
When Anjunadeep first announced 05 in the summer of 2012, the label gave no track listing or release date. However, it caused a stir by naming Jody Wisternoff in place of Jaytech as Grant’s fellow DJ. Wisternoff is a veteran English DJ who released the track Lassoo on 02 (and as an Anjunadeep single b/w No Longer Strangers), and who is one-half of the group Way Out West along with DJ Nick Warren. Although Jaytech was a fan favorite, the assumption was that he was leaving the project to pursue his Anjunabeats sound, and the inclusion of Wisternoff was met with intrigue.
Anjunadeep had released 01 through 04 during the months of late winter and early spring. When a track listing still remained unavailable for 05 at that time in 2013, followers became concerned about the status of the project. Their concern was increased by a span of months in which Anjunadeep had released no new music of any kind. The label reached out to say it had been hard at work signing new artists for 05, but didn’t follow up with a track list until May. Its arrival continued to cause questions, since some of the label’s most admired artists, such as Oliver Smith and Martin Roth, were nowhere to be found.
Anjunadeep’s release of EPs and singles by newcomers Kahwe, Lane 8, and The Peacemaker Project in the months leading up to 05 were well received and eased doubters’ fears about the direction of the label. Over the years, both Anjunadeep and Anjunabeats have found a special place in listeners hearts because of their uncompromising quality in two genres of music—deep, progressive house and trance—that many electronic artists left behind after the heyday of the mid to late ‘90s. Yet within the last year, Anjunabeats has ruffled some of the label’s fans by embracing the more contemporary electronic music styles of EDM and dubstep. On the other hand, Anjunadeep’s recent output has shown an increasingly sophisticated evolution of its core sound.
All of that backstory comes to a head with the release of 05. Quite simply, both discs are monumental. Compared to 05, even prior Anjunadeep compilations—which represent the best of the genre—sound like extended samplers intended to showcase a variety of individual tracks. In contrast, each disc of 05 is a living, breathing whole. The best and most favorable comparison is the legendary Northern Exposure series of 1996-99 by DJs Sasha and John Digweed. Grant and Wisternoff have reached that level for 2013.
Disc 1 is mixed by James Grant, and is an emotional journey with a profundity rarely—if ever previously—found in electronic music. Grant’s mix takes off with the gorgeous Cardigan by Croquet Club, one of two tracks on 05 (the other being Lane 8’s Be Mine) that have received attention for being supported by BBC Radio 1. Cardigan’s emotive piano chords and deep bass merge into the calmer and subdued synths of Vincenzo & Aram’s Let Go.
Let Go builds up to master craftsman Andrew Bayer and Grant’s collaboration Living. It is true to its name, with bass, white noise, and a vocal sample that taken together I can only fumblingly describe as sensitive with a hint of melancholy. Full vocals make their first appearance on Beckwith’s Back to Love featuring Catherine Porter.
The following 10+ minutes of back-to-back tracks by guest artist Universal Solution, Yukon and Osheen are a euphoric rush that may just qualify as the highest point of a uniformly great mix. The human sensitivity of the prior tracks is washed away in a deep-dive movement into audio bliss.
Those fans who were disappointed to learn of the absence of Martin Roth on 05 should be more than consoled by Davi’s contributions on Disc 1, The Time Has Come and The Bay 6. They are in the style of Roth’s popular Beautiful Life from 04, but muscled-up and with more tension. The Bay 6 is a huge track, with some unexpectedly powerful organ bursts near its end.
WYV AUW CHU (spoiler: read “Without You”) by Tom Middleton, a major-name guest appearance, is a compilation highlight that shimmers and sparkles just prior to the last quarter of the mix, where the atmosphere gets heavier. Matt Lange’s Way You Know, featuring vocals by Tania Zygar, is an emotional and more organic piano-based track. Bayer and Grant’s second collaboration, a remix of electro indie-pop group The Presets’ It’s Cool, has a gravity like that of an imminent breakup, and is brilliantly punctuated by the vocals “Baby, it’s….” followed by a moment of silence, leaving the listener to fill in the blank before the beat drops. The final track, Symbols, by Solarity, reaches a point of pure stillness before issuing out waves of jagged synths that sound like a communication from the other end of the universe.
“Sexy” is a term often used to describe good house music, and one that makes sense given its oft-intended use in dance parties. But a more proper description of the feeling conveyed by Grant’s 05 mix is love–in the immense and awe-inspiring meaning of the word. Grant’s mix, and the artists’ contributions to it, are a tour de force that makes you feel their passion for the music every moment of the way.
Wisternoff’s mix on Disc 2 is a warmer and breezier affair that better fits the description “sexy,” but the term still remains inapt. Without getting lost in the metaphor, let’s just say that if Grant’s mix is meant to make you feel, then Wisternoff’s mix is meant to make you feel good. It is an ethereally smooth set consisting of Wisternoff reshapes, remixes, and original tracks.
The party starts with Wisternoff’s remix of The Peacemaker Project’s Ich Lass’ Dich Nicht Züruck, a much airier track than the title suggests (at least to someone like me who doesn’t speak German and unfortunately associates the language with acts like Rammstein). Wisternoff then reshapes Lane 8’s 2013 hit Be Mine, a lush and throbbing tune, before smoothing it out with a stunning rework of Skanna’s 1993 classic This Way. The party then continues as strong as ever with Wisternoff and Pete Josef’s We Are Heroes.
The extent of Wisternoff’s presence in his own mix may seem overwhelming on paper, but in practice it works in favor of the music. For the fans: one of my favorite moments on past Anjunadeeps was 03’s mix of Stephen J. Kroos’ Micrsh with Martin Roth’s Deep Style, two tracks that were essentially made for each other. Wisternoff’s control over the production allows him to maintain that same level of seamlessness for nearly the entire album. Alfred Taylor’s Kuza, Beckwith’s Townsend Sling, Meramek’s (an Oliver Smith alias) Feeling, and Matt Lange’s Only You are the only non-Wisternoff tracks that appear in their original versions.
Wisternoff’s set reaches its climax with his scorching-hot 8-minute remix of Above & Beyond’s Alchemy, featuring the talented vocalist Zöe Johnston. His reshapes of Kahwe’s Driving Me Wild and Leftwing & Kody’s Deep In succeed in bringing the energy to the dance floor. The only moment that sounds out of place on all of 05 is the extended length of Wisternoff’s Macbeth, which chugs along for eight minutes in a more willful way than the graceful manner of the other tracks. However, by the time Wisternoff’s mix closes with his “blend” of Andre Sobota’s Move Into Tokyo Dawn, you feel like you’ve emerged into the dawn yourself and realize that the party never stopped until the music did.
I liken Wisternoff’s mix to a party, but it could just as easily be the soundtrack to a more relaxed setting, such as a walk on a sunny beach or even a rest in a shady hammock. I will also say from personal experience that, upon hearing both Grant’s and Wisternoff’s mixes, I could not listen to them as background music—they demanded my full attention, and not just for the purposes of writing this review.
Grant’s leadership of the Anjunadeep label, and his and Wisternoff’s mastery of their art on 05 demonstrate that deep house music is alive in 2013, and not something to be listened to with nostalgia for the ‘90s and the days of Global Underground compilations. Broadly speaking, this compilation is so emotionally potent that it is almost like a diagnostic test of the listener’s ability to feel, and it is essential listening for anyone who can do so.
Reviewed by John Koch