Pole (Berlin’s Stefan Betke) established his initial sound over his first album trilogy, released between 1998 and 2000 (and excitingly titled 1, 2 and 3, otherwise known as the blue-red-yellow trilogy). It is a sound that blends micro-dub with scraping clicks and cuts, earning Pole the reputation as one of the true originals of glitchy electronica. However, Betke himself eventually tired of his own projects, as recent years have seen him move away from scraping sound-wizardry to take a more hip-hop influenced approach to electronica.
This self-titled album, his fourth for Mute, completes the course staked out on the 45/45 and 90/90 EPs released earlier this year, reprising some tracks, building and advancing on others and adding some brand new ones. Including rapper Fat Jon from the Five Deez hip-hop collective alongside upright bass player August Engkilde and saxophonist Thomas Haas, this is Pole’s most “organic” sounding album yet, and the first to feature guest contributors in such prominent positions.
The change of direction is interesting, if nowhere near as expressively exciting as his best earlier work. Put it like this: You could play this at a coffeehouse and get away with it, which is a first for Pole. This is a far more subdued album than we’re used to, and perhaps even a more polite one. While many early fans will be offended by Pole’s change of direction, this is certainly far less offensive, musically speaking, than we’ve come to expect. It’s not an album or a direction you’d want to see him stuck with for the rest of his career, but as for now, this is a fun exploration of his musicality, demonstrating Betke’s willingness and ability to explore his own multi-layered musicality in detail, without ever compromising his integrity or his musical foundation.