Album Review: Timo Maas / ‘Lifer’ (Rockets & Ponies)



A real mish-mash third time up from Timo Maas, ploughing what could be termed a dance-punk route that finds thrills in hacking into computers on the run, while including 2011’s Brian Molko collaboration “College ‘84,” reasonable hip-hop outing “Grown Up” with Mikill Pane, and crystal-tipped house wandering star “Tantra.” After a ponderous, Asian-pinned opening that doesn’t really set the tone other than being one divergent strand amongst many, it’s the sub-goth quiet storms involving road-trippers Katie Cruel and James Lavelle that may leave you hanging, compounded by the twiddles of “Abundance” aiming for edge of the seat but not giving itself time to finish the job. The rocky roads travelled on “Scope” claw back the balance, providing a past-midnight awakening through long and stirring synth rolls.

At its most energetic, “Kick 1 Kick 2” makes the most of being given the freedom to rupture the earth with an ear-splitting techno boom and pound, but the spark goes missing elsewhere. “Train in my Kitchen,” with pots and pans clattering to beefed up punk-funk bass, doesn’t go anywhere, and “Cash Johnny” shows similar solidity in abrasions wanting the straight and narrow rather than the adventurous. Some good moments, some average moments and some moments that you’ve either heard before or won’t remember again, never has that distinction between the DJ and the artist, and wanting to grasp electronic music’s bigger picture, been truer.

File under: Mutant Clan, Santos, Seelenluft

Timo Maas: A DJ From Another Era Finds His Place Again

timo maas

Emerging during the ’90s, a time when DJs earned their reputations from throwing down on the decks, not cake at their audiences, Timo Maas literally came out of nowhere. Raised in a small town in Germany, his story of musical fascination and desire to DJ and produce music becomes interesting after he issues his life altering remix of Azzido Da Bass’ “Doom’s Night” crafted with then studio partner Martin Buttrich. The remix instantly makes Maas a hot commodity on the European trance and progressive house scene and leads to a stream of high profile remix and production work, an association with Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto label, DJ residencies and eventually a U.S. record deal that establishes him as a prime mover on the nascent American club scene. Two decent albums encapsulating his low-end theory and Teutonic funk are the byproduct of this era: 2002’s Loud featuring R&B songstress Kelis, UK rapper MC Chickaboo and Scottish Finley Quaye and 2005’s Pictures featuring Placebo’s Brian Molko, singer Neneh Cherry, rapper Rodney P and another collaboration with Kelis. And then… nothing.

Timo Maas didn’t completely disappear; he pulled over to the side of the road. In 2010 he set up his Rocket & Ponies label with production partner Santos and still DJ’ed and remixed. He got himself off the album-tour treadmill, taking a break from releasing full-length endeavors and releasing his excellent Balance 017 in 2010.

A little over seven years later Maas returns with Lifer, his third full-length that has seemingly little in common with two previous  albums. The euphoria heard in his earlier work has given way to a sound that’s darker, bolder and — dare we say it — more substantial and mature.  “I was going through big changes workwise and in my private life,” Maas says rather vaguely of the life events that informed Lifer. “All the artistic work created in the past two to five years went into the album!”

“I don’t care how people try to describe it, as long as they listen to and love it!”

Now in his ’40s, one wonders if Maas’ self-imposed hiatus was about coming to terms with his past and figuring out a plan for the future. Over e-mail it’s not entirely clear that this Lifer is looking at his world on such a grand scale. He says, “[Lifer is…] the current understanding where my production partner, Santos and I, see our definition of electronic music. A studio album is not a DJ set, so it’s a completely different approach to that!”

Maas rose to international acclaim in a pre-social media world, a time when reputations were built on the strength of the music and the ability for a DJ to take a dance floor on the proverbial journey. While he recognizes and understands the cultural shift where the sync button and accessible technology has eliminated the barrier to his chosen profession, he seems to have allowed his creativity to flow in a deeper way, drawing on experience and insight that can’t be plucked from a sample pack.

timo maas lifer

“For me, it was and still is the most important thing — the quality of music — and not essentially the technical way of doing it,” Maas says. “I do not use sync buttons by the way. When I started, it was a lot more difficult to make electronic music, but once you’re hooked on it, there`s no way to stop!”

With Lifer‘s darker sound, musical categorizations that once applied to him — progressive house, tech house, progressive trance — now seem superfluous. “I never really liked it to be categorized,” he notes, “so quite frankly, I don’t care how people try to describe it, as long as they listen to and love it!”

The opening track “Visions” features a gorgeous sitar part., leading one to wonder if Maas has experienced a higher state of consciousness during his respite. If he did, he’s not saying. James Lavelle from U.N.K.L.E. appears on “The Hunted” and raises the question of what Lenny Cohen might have sounded like if he had flirted more with the dark side. “I like the dark, bittersweet feelings more than pure euphoria somehow,” says Maas. “That lasts longer, and that’s simply me!”

Emerging UK rapper Mikill Pane spits an interesting line on “Grown Up”: “I’m a little older than I was back then, and hopefully a lot wiser.” Is there any significance to that lyric or song? “I have asked Mikill to write lyrics that describe and express my feelings (as much as his). Making music is a “LIFER” business in some ways. Some friends from London gave me a tip a while ago to watch out for Mikill, and I am very happy I did because he’s unique in his style and he’s very cool too.”

On Lifer Maas includes a few tunes for the dance floor, including “Kick1Kick3” and “Scope,” two bangers that have already made noise on the dance floor.  “The bass on ‘Scope’ is played live by Santos,” Maas shares, “The programming of the drums in general on the album are very organic and sometimes have — on purpose — a live feeling to it. Some cymbals and noises are recorded live by us.”

Then there’s “Abundance,” a wonderful leftfield proposition bordering on the experimental and hinting at future work that aims beyond his comfort zone.  (“I always had the intention of doing things like that, and I will go on doing that!”)

As Timo Maas enters his tenth year at DC10 in Ibiza and promotes his new album, one wonders if he is looking over his shoulder as he continues forward. Either way, he seems to be satisfied with where he’s at right now. “I have been living beyond my wildest dreams for a very long time now, and I appreciate every little bit of my profession!”

So where does Maas go from here? “Forward ever. Backward never!”

Lifer is out now on Rockets & Ponies.