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Tobias Thomas: Smallville

Worthwhile DJ mixes trade less on smart selections and sleek beat-matching than on wholly contained sound worlds that suggest a philosophy behind the routine. Truly great ones can be hard to come by, but the brilliant Kompakt label has rolled out no fewer than three essential mixes in the past 18 months. Michael Mayer's Immer evoked a night out nodding to the label's hard-hewn "heroin house" sound. Triple R's Friends stayed in for a homier cleanup fix of gentle clicks and humming mood cues. And now Tobias Thomas closes the loop with a shifty, unassuming soundtrack suited for a morning spell in the hobby room. Smallville's cover features a model train running through an impressive miniature village, and there's something of the small-scale enthusiast's imaginative hand at work in Thomas' wide-eyed methodology. It takes 13 minutes for a true beat to kick in, but what at first seems like a sloppy line through gauzy ambience and murmured vocals (by Dntel and Erlend Oye) actually sets up Glowing Glisses' microhouse saunter right down to its melody. Heavy on Germans with deep minimal allegiances, Smallville trickles echoed figures and beat patterns across a wide expanse, signaling a mix-in logic that makes more sense over the long haul than on a track-by-track basis. The thick fuzz crackle of Jan Jelinek's wowing "Tendency" picks up the snap of Sten's "Asami," but it also works as a cumulative wrap-up of the five tracks that precede it. Smallville charts a steady build in terms of mood and tempo, but Thomas' subtlety makes the progression from plaintive microhouse to thwacky techno sound small and introspective even when it's big and aggressive. When Smallville climaxes with "Bleed" by Forever Sweet (a German supergroup made up of Thomas, Mayer, and Reinhard Voigt), it evokes an image of dance-floor release squeezed into the sly smile of a DJ alone in his room, surrounded by his toys and an imagined world he leaves begging for more.

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