Album of the month
Kornél Kovács 'The Bells' (Studio Barnhus)
Studio Barnhus, the dynamic Swedish house label founded by Kornél Kovács, Axel Boman and Petter Nordkvist, is named after the Stockholm street, Barnhusgatan, that’s home to their office-cum-studio. The strict translation of ‘barnhus’ is orphanage – ‘Barn’ in Swedish means kids, ‘hus’ is house – but when you hear the music and uncover the trio’s lively personalities, it’s hard not to be drawn into other word associations, like fun, camaraderie and wide-grinned playfulness. Kovács has all these in abundance. With ‘The Bell’ – engineered alongside his friend, Brit production whizz Matt Karmil – Kovács proves that serious house music doesn’t need to be po-faced and earnest. He’s serious about having fun. It’s a collection built from a narrow range of influences, from disco to dancehall and dub to late-90s house, but as a result it feels coherent and consistent, sitting somewhere between the carnival workouts of Basement Jaxx and the atmospheric widescreen sprawl of DJ Koze. ‘Gex’, for example, is a frenetic blur of samba samples and screeching horns that sounds like a near-Nordic relative of Jaxx classic ‘Fly Life’. This energy is never far from the surface on ‘The Bells’. Cut-up, French Touch-style guitar licks and jerky rhythms collide on ‘BB’, while on ‘Dollar Club’, Kovács switches to high-stepping dancehall house in a haze of shimmering chords and celestial voices.
But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s merely a procession of good-time house. Each track gets subverted in some fashion. The otherwise gloriously sunny stomp of ‘Pop’ has a surface so granulated it feels like Kovács has taken a sheet of sandpaper to it, and the booming, reverbed stabs of ‘Szirka’ are further roughed up by persistent, scratchy interference as if a box of cockroaches has been emptied over it. Kornél Kovács is having a great time on ‘The Bells’: it’d be remiss of you not to join him.