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Various Artists - Studio Barnhus Volym 1 Music Album Reviews

The immersive and warm-hearted comp from the Swedish label is filled with pop oddities and floor-filling house tracks from both big names and newcomers.

Eight years ago, Stockholm’s Studio Barnhus label got its start with Good Children Make Bad Grown Ups, a showcase for founders Axel Boman, Petter Nordkvist (aka Pedrodollar), and Kornél Kovács. The four-track sampler triangulated the nascent label’s sound at the intersection of deep house, impish disco, and 1960s pop, and as Studio Barnhus has grown up, the crew has retained its childlike spirit. Across the next 60-odd releases, the imprint has struck a careful balancing act between floor-filling hedonism and misty-eyed sentimentalism, offset by a subtle sense of humor. On Studio Barnhus Volym 1, the label’s first long-playing compilation, the Swedes continue to explore their affable aesthetic, and they’ve never made better company.

Studio Barnhus’ releases generally target club audiences—all three founders are DJs—but Volym 1 is often content to stray far from the dancefloor. The opening “Night Fantastic,” from Man Tear is a woozy pastiche of 1980s synth-pop that takes giddy pleasure in clever sound effects and cheekily portentous lyrics. Paradise Alley opt for toe-scuffing vibes on the downcast “What Road,” another sidelong take on synth pop. Whispers Beirut finally make the leap from SoundCloud to a more legitimate theater with “The Champion,” a slow, pneumatic take on their whimsical signature sound.

Recent signee Bella Boo’s “boyboy” drizzles bluesy sweet nothings over elliptical scrapes and squelches, suggesting Matthew Herbert remixing St Germain; in-house heartthrob Baba Stiltz doubles down on the blues conceit in a gravelly romantic plea that vacillates between sincerity and tomfoolery. And Pedrodollar’s bittersweet “Reality World” comes off like a sun-warped cassette, out-of-tune guitars glinting warm against a drunken synth solo. (Studio Barnhus’ sense of humor comes into play here with a single spoken word—“Orange”—that’s almost certainly a reference to Boards of Canada’s own habit of infusing their music with synesthetic cues.)

It’s easy to spot the influence of both Pampa and Kompakt on the Barnhus sound, so it’s fitting that figures from both labels turn up on Volym 1. Pampa papa DJ Koze delivers “Hawaiian Souldier,” a sticky-sweet tone poem that melts guitar strings into a puddle of ice cream, while Superpitcher bounces back from his sprawling The Golden Ravedays with one of the gentlest, most affecting songs he’s given us in years: His “La La Land” crystallizes the compilation’s easy-listening undercurrents in home-organ drums and a wordless, na-na-na chorus that sounds like it’s straight out of a ’70s Christmas special.

John Talabot, who DJs and records with Boman as Talaboman, also turns up with a crackerjack tune—“The Change,” a punchy house bubbler with detuned synth accents that trigger flashbacks of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92—but for the most part Volym 1 doesn’t rely on big names to make its case; some of its best work comes from newcomers. Atlanta’s Qaadir Howard—the YouTuber who popularized the phrase “No Tea, No Shade”—delivers a UK-flavored soulful house tune with a breakbeat undercurrent. Off the Meds, a Stockholm group fronted by the South African MC Kamohelo Khoaripe, drop a low-key hip-hop track fueled by acoustic bass and Ethio-jazz piano. And Sofia Kourtesis turns in another easy-listening house gem that cushions crisp hi-hats in airy vocal samples; along with Kovács’ much heavier house anthem “On Roofs,” it’s one of the album’s dancefloor highlights.

There was a fourth name credited on Barnhus 001, one only heard from one other time since then: Gino Bomino, whose fleeting appearance serves as a reminder of the label’s fondness for a well-played mystery. There are no secrets on Volym 1, exactly, but there is one major surprise: the comp’s absolute standout, Adrian Lux’s “Teenage Crime (Axel Boman Dub),” which first appeared in radically different form, in 2010, on Axtone—a label run by Axwell, of the Swedish House Mafia. The original version was a kind of winsome trance-pop, while the Axwell remix—not nearly as offensive as some of SHM’s later work, admittedly—added some main-stage oomph. There’s no mistaking the source of Boman’s edit, but the way he slows the tempo, dubs out the voice, and swaps in a weak-in-the-knees bounce laced with silvery acid streamers makes for an unexpectedly moving dancefloor moment. The Studio Barnhus crew has never been above indulging a pop sweet tooth, especially when it comes to sampling their Swedish brethren, but being able to hear the honey in a song many underground heads might automatically have written off as cheese speaks to the open-mindedness—and the warm-heartedness—that lies behind Studio Barnhus’ irrepressible charm.

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