It’s easy to imagine the Kompakt Records office in Cologne, Germany, as a blindingly white room filled with office workers also dressed in white, typing away at egg-shaped computers. In the hands of owners Michael Mayer and Wolfgang Voigt, the label has become a home to artists who like to dabble in glistening ambient experiments as much as they do in weightless house, who make music with a sense of sterile playfulness, a buoyancy that is as beautiful and contemplative as it is stark. If you could point to a single label that has defined electronic music today, in all its mutant strains, it’d be Kompakt.
Which is why Mantasy—Michael Mayer’s first full-length in eight years and his second album of original material ever—is bound to be scrutinized by fans. “It wasn’t a conscious decision that I would wait eight years for my second album, but it was more like it wasn’t possible before. I don’t have a lot of time to spend in the studio,” he says. “I’m fully involved in the Kompakt label, I have a family, I’m taking most of my weekends [off], so to empty my calendar for the first half of the year so I would be able to work on the record—it wasn’t possible before.” That epic incubation period seems to have benefited Mantasy greatly. In the years between records, Mayer has released an assortment of impeccable mixes and singles and DJed consistently all over the world, working as both a tastemaker and a musical census taker, documenting electronic music’s subtle but constant shifts. Mantasy works as a distillation of these experiences, pulling threads from across the musical spectrum and knotting them into a collection of songs that, as Mayer describes them, “take an odd way rather than just following a path that was already there.”
Touching on just about every subset of electronic music imaginable, from the nuanced tick of “Roses” to the bizarre, horn-laden strut of “Rudi Was a Punk,” to the breathtaking ambient opener “Sully,” which is built on sonar pings and a gush of bass that recedes into what sounds like a distant waterfall, Mayer attacks his productions with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a new artist and the knowingness of a seasoned vet. “When I started creating music in the ’90s, it started out as a kind of experiment with myself,” Mayer says. “All my other jobs are very social, and I am dealing with a lot of people. I was curious what was going to happen if I locked myself in the studio—just me and a computer and some gear. How am I going to feel about it? Can I be alone at all? That was how I started making music, and I still keep it that way.” Mantasy might reflect the flux of a tumultuous genre, but it’s also the product of one man hidden away, cobbling together sound in obsessive bursts before returning to his family and his desk job, ready to start following whatever twisted trail electronic music might take next.
Download: Michael Mayer, “Good Times”