|Album Review: UMEK – Rhythmia|
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Slovenian production master UMEK is more than just a name in the house music game, he's a legend, leading a unique brand of tech house through this round of dance music's prime. While many recognize him as an artist who brings the groove of old school house music into the present day via his own 1605 label (with a sprinkling of Eastern European-inspired melancholy), this week he's set out to set the record straight. Partnering up with one of the biggest names in dance music, Spinnin' Records, UMEK has moved away from his home at 1605 to release his fourth artist album with a goal in mind: to show the versatility of his talent through a release aimed at a broader audience. And while that intent might draw out an assumption that the album will feel forced, the real result is Rhythmia, a cosmopolitan cruise where both loyal and new fans can get on board, traveling through genre, sound and groove while connecting to dance music's origins in a way that only a seasoned veteran could.
The album's title track is a collaboration with Heartik: an artist who's collaborated with UMEK before, but never on a track sounding like this. Venturing into true progressive electronica territory, the track is almost trippy in its layered instrumental synths. Following it is a deeper and more familiar "Ethereal Nature," reminding us of the good that UMEK can do with a simple house track with an upbeat groove and dark vocal.
"Hard Times" is the lead single off the album, featuring Mike Vale and classic house chords.
The next few tracks, "Friendly Cayenne," "Cloudbank" and "Divine" featuring Simon Doty are those that remind us the different levels of intensity that house music can take on. Envisioning these on the dance floor, each track seems like it could be played at different times of the night, with "Friendly Cayenne" feeling some electro influence, and "Cloudbank" scaling back and taking on a feeling reminiscent of some of Mark Knight's work.
The last portion of the album takes a turn into some awesome and fun experimental territory. While "Burnfire" with Jay Colin has an underlying Latin influence, "Luftmensch" takes us into a land of hip hop inspired house that has reminded me that sometimes it's not the bass that is the ultimate pump up, but sampling like that can work so well that it almost feels like he's introducing the US Olympic basketball team onto the game floor. And what a perfect place to introduce his fellow hip hop sampling Groovebox on "Sweet Harmony," a track that saw great success as a single earlier this year.
Interestingly enough, UMEK chose to end the album with another exploration outside of his house music roots. "Place of Pure Ones and Zeroes" is a triumphant, symphonic way to Rhythmia's listening experience.
My first thought after listening to this start to finish is that as an album, Rhythmia's twists and turns are those that can also be experienced separately – quite an impressive feat for an artist aiming to broaden his audience.