Kraak & Smaak drop fourth full-length offering Chrome Waves, plot thickens for ‘the year of the album’ [Album Review]
Kraak & Smaak are an act notorious for making some of the most interesting and intricate indie dance / nu disco of the time. They may not have ever become an international household name, but with the addition of well oiled live assets and a consistent balance of club cuts and commercial crossovers on show, their fourth full-length instalment Chrome Waves is another nod to their hallowed studio outputs. Compared to that of 2011’s Electric Hustle, the trio’s agenda appears somewhat more eclectic in style – perhaps the product of several years in the making and increased pressure for electronic dance acts to make the album platform more than just a dumping ground for B-sides and a few potent hits. From the first striking of lead single “The Future Is Yours,” however, it was evident that Kraak & Smaak returned with more poignant universal stamina than ever before in their long serving collective reign. Dancing Astronaut took the opportunity to trail through Chrome Waves in its entirety to scope whether the tides of creative change were moving to the favor of these renowned Dutch underdogs.
The Future Is Yours
Somwhere along the line, Ben Westbeech decided he didn’t want his name to appear on the album’s original single instalment. Perhaps it’s dreamy pop sensibilities didn’t fit that of trendy newfound deep house moniker Breach, or maybe it goes deeper behind the scenes. But regardless of the namesake, Westbeech transforms “The Future Is Yours” into a first-class example of where docile house music and radio-friendly pop structures can coexist with the utmost clarity.
How We Gonna Stop The Time
Somewhere in the transition from his native Dublin to current home of Amsterdam, Stee Downes fell into the earshot of Kraak & Smaak. The product of this is a smooth second coming of the taste for crossover club fuel its vocal predecessor threw on to the table earlier down the line. This is a true indie dance love ballad, matching emotive lyrics and warm key-driven chord structures to forge a rewarding second catch of songmanship among the albums unrestricted genre range.
Good For The City
In a turn to the straight-laced indie dance that once permeated the British shores and much of the European circuit, “Good For The City” poses the first risky extension of Chrome Waves. Sam Duckworth’s chipper British songmanship is unlikely to tickle everyone’s fancy, but on face value “Good For The City” is a feel-good pop song that is sure to make the cut for both the European and North American market.
The Upper Hand
By the time we hit track number four, some comfort zones are seriously getting bashed. LA-based rapper Capitol A becomes the centre-point to this recollection piece to hip-hop’s more chilled regions and the immediate compatibility with melodic house music that Kraak & Smaak have stumbled upon. Genre-defying it is not, but for a track that on paper just shouldn’t work, “The Upper Hand” is a laidback masterpiece in waiting.
Janne Schra has one of those voices that was made for the ranks of ungroomed indie pop. Her transfer over to the trio’s electronic dream space is convincing, with raw bass lines and dreamy melodic clusters padding out one of Chrome Wave’s more subtle creative highs. If the album really is to be referred to in the context of a journey, “Love Inflation” is where Kraak & Smaak start pulling some really impressive stops.
Remember that period where gritty underground house music became a mainstay on the floor throughout Europe? Well then, you should know tha Kraak & Smaak have held a firm grasp over its instrumental extensions, ala “Your Body.” Far from a cheap rip off of Breach’s viral installment of a similarly repetitive persuasion, this steadily grooving blitz of moody synths and intricate chord progressions plays like a Kraak Beats 2.0 to the album’s otherwise divergent streak.
Where You Been
Until now, Chrome Waves has been a reassuringly sanguine affair. “Where You Been,” however, dares to differ. Dreamy pads and docile beats meet stretched out sample work somewhere in the middle, forming a beautifully docile middle ground between their standard instrumental get-up and the more experimental and ambient range of modern electronica. A change in pace, perhaps, but a relevant one to the twists and turns of this crucial fourth coming for the trio.
Reykjavík’s Retro Stefson prove the epitome of the left-of-field collaborative streak that fuels Chrome Waves from start-to-finish. The seven-piece Icleanding indie jivers bring the infectious vocal properties of early electronica and prime house music to the equation, opting all in for a vintage pop anthem true to Kraak & Smaak’s groovy and infectious penchant.
Just Wanna Be Loved
Somewhere between the nostalgic turns of modern deep house and the resurrection of Nile Rodger’s cultural credibility, heavy-footed disco house became a vital commodity. “Just Wanna Be Loved” gears smoothly towards this popular sensation, using Joi Cardwell’s considerable vocal range to pen perhaps not the most imaginative song of the album, but one of the most infectious pop injections to it’s dotted stylistic canvas. Suddenly, being the old guys in the game sounds pretty damn rewarding.
Don’t Let People
The juxtaposition of deep progressing resonance and intricate lead work found in “Don’t Let People” is testament to a word you have been hearing a lot in this breakdown: infectious. Whilst Berenice van Leer offers yet another versatile topline to the equation for album number four, the track itself holds the corner for their left-of-field schematic for music that simply works on every required level. If instrumental, rhythmically charged house music didn’t seem to have a considerable shelf life before this moment, Kraak & Smaak sound ready to act as its golden boys for the forseeable future past all this talk of Disclosure.
John Turrell has the vocal capabilities that could have fuelled some timeless soul anthems along the way. Fittingly, his talents are saved for Chrome Waves final strike of brilliance, the soulfully charged “Back Again.” Instrumentally, the agenda is familiar. This is part of that residing brilliance behind Chrome Waves. With the most subtle twists and turns, Kraak & Smaak hallmark their own sound as one with unlimited possibilities on the modern dance sound scope. True to Turell’s feel-good topline, this final six-minute affair closes the curtains on perhaps the most definitive exploration of the trio and their nostalgically charged exploration of musicianship.
Like a classier Disclosure or an under-marketed Daft Punk, the trio makes you want to pick up an instrument, scour the local circuit for budding vocalists and reinvest your musical fantasies in the full-length platform. So many have tried it for 2013, but with these Dutch trailblazers behind the wheel, the whole process feels ever so genuine. Kraak & Smaak have found a way to give modern dance music unprecedented soul, spirit and compositional substance. If 2013 was the year of below-ground luminaries, Chrome Waves sets Kraak & Smaak as late yet eloquent contenders to the European throne.