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Moomin - Yesterday’s Tomorrows Music Album Reviews

Moomin - Yesterday’s Tomorrows Music Album Reviews
On his third album, Berlin producer Sebastian Genz switches up his dreamy house sound with forays into drum ‘n’ bass and boom-bap hip-hop but can’t shake his nostalgia addiction.

There are musical styles that stretch wide and loose, like a sagging tarpaulin, and there are those that fit as tight as a surgeon’s glove. The former aesthetics—minimal techno, say, or dream pop—allow for all kinds of variations. In the latter (dub techno, straight-edge hardcore), the tropes become so specific that to alter them even slightly would be to fundamentally undo the identity of the style in question.

For nearly a decade now, as one of the core artists on Hamburg’s Smallville label, Moomin—the Berlin producer Sebastian Genz—has had a hand in crafting one of the most snugly proportioned aesthetics in house music. You can count the key elements of the Smallville sound on one hand: There’s typically a repeated chord progression on something like a Rhodes piano; the drums, either sourced from a classic Roland drum machine or sampled from disco or jazz, have been filtered so as to make the handclaps and hi-hats sound sharp yet battered, like your go-to kitchen knife. Added texture might come from a loop of faraway vocals, squashed like the sound of an AM radio transmission, or easy-listening strings, or maybe a snippet of seagulls. Where vinyl has been sampled, which is often, the clicks and pops are pushed prominently to the center of the mix. The overall effect is dreamy to the max: wistful, sparkling, jewel-toned. Suffused with both nostalgia and childlike innocence (Moomin takes his name from a Scandinavian comic strip), Smallville house verges on twee.

Genz signed with Brighton, UK label Wolf Music for his third album, Yesterday’s Tomorrows, but the particulars of his style haven’t changed much. His drums still have the bite of a fresh Granny Smith; his keys still glow like an aquarium. Even when his drums are keyed to the 120-BPM skip of the dancefloor, the melodies feel more evocative of kittens yawning or willows weeping. It’s an excellent sound for outdoor day parties of the sort that are popular in Berlin, where lazily ecstatic crowds sway in slow motion to a pitter-pat groove that never breaks its step.

There is one major difference this time out: No longer making just house music, he’s now stretching his template to encompass boom-bap hip-hop and even drum ‘n’ bass. Only four of the album’s eight tracks are the kind of four-to-the-floor deep house for which he’s known, and all of those are textbook Moomin. None is exactly surprising, but they all deliver a gratifying twist on his sound. “In Our Lifetime” gets its elliptical groove from jazz brushes. “Maybe Tomorrow” twists muted Rhodes and guitar counterpoints into an upbeat groove with a beatific mood. And both “Daysdays” and “Shibuya Feelings” achieve that alchemical reaction in which two chords and just the right drum sample combine to form a blissfully propulsive loop.

The stylistic detours on the album are less surprising than they may seem. Both drum ‘n’ bass cuts, “Into the Woods” and “Move On,” use the same tremolo-kissed electric pianos as his house tunes; so do the boom-bap tracks, “Fruits” and “949494.” Genz has always been a nostalgist at heart—his house tracks, like those of his peers, have typically looked to the early 1990s for inspiration—and his breakbeat cuts, both fast and slow, are rooted in the same era. His jungle tunes evoke LTJ Bukem and other producers who wedded jazz licks with plunging sub-bass, while his downtempo tracks could easily pass for something off the pioneering trip-hop label Mo Wax’s Headz comp. Genz even acknowledges his debt to the past with “949494,” a 94-BPM foray into abstract beats that could have come from 1994, the genre’s heyday.

All of these tracks are both skillful pastiches and fine productions in their own right—but, dwelling on the past as it does, the album doesn’t feel terribly urgent. It’s a cozy listen, no doubt. But instead of looking back to ’90s electronic music’s futurist impulse and taking those inspirations somewhere new, Yesterday’s Tomorrows seems mostly content to wrap itself up in the past and linger there, hitting the snooze button while history marches on.

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