Well, this is the album that many have been waiting for. I know that I was originally excited when I heard that Stefan Betke was going to be releasing a new album this year with a large change in direction. I was still excited when I heard that he was working with a rapper on the disc, figuring that it would give a well-needed injection to Betke's music, which had pretty much run its course over the course of three early albums and a remix disc (and countless imitators). After all the hoopla and after not only one, but two lead-in EPs, he drops 9 tracks and just over 40 minutes worth of music, much of which you'll already have heard if you already picked up the aforementioned discs.
The disc opens with "Slow Motion," the headlining track of the recent 90/90 EP, before dropping off into the rub-a-dub of "Bushes (There Is A Secret Behind)." It's another soupy freestyle-sounding track, with saxophone by Thomas Haas that adds some swarming skronk to the mush. In terms of breaking stylistically with his old work, it really doesn't a whole lot. If one simply replaced the sax meandering with hiss and pops, the track would basically sound the same as something off one of his first discs. "Umbrella" takes things in a slightly different direction, still working that dubby tip, but shaking down a really off-kilter rhythm and stripping down melodies to a minimum while adding random bursts of static to keep some interesting dynamics.
From there, it's on to two more tracks with rapper Fat Jon, both of which appeared as instrumental versions on the 45/45 EP. Both of them fair much better than the first track on the disc with rapping, as Fat Jon takes a slightly more aggressive rapping style on "Arena" and gives the track a great punch that it didn't have originally. "Round Two" falls somewhere between the previous and opening track, with vocals that add a little to the track, but don't push it into standout territory. Like the aforementioned "Umbrella," "Like Rain (But Different)" adds a bit more punch to the rhythm and comes out ahead on things, tossing in an almost skittering hi-hat and froggy dub stabs that help to dice it up and break the fairly lackadaisical flow of the release.
From there, it's back into another slow-wash collaboration with August Engkilde (on upright bass) and Thomas Haas (saxophone) on "Green Is Not Green-Yellow" before Fat Jon makes another appearance on "The Bell" (which also appeared in instrumental form on the 45/45 EP). The album wisely closes out with "Back Home," one of the best songs of the new batch (but which also appeared on the first EP). As mentioned above, one of the problems with the release is that although Betke works with several collaborators on the release, it seems as if he isn't confident enough in their abilities to give them their space. Not only is the rapping by Fat Jon fairly quiet on most tracks, but it rarely goes beyond a simple quiet flow that only adds to the lethargic overall feel of the release. I've got to give Betke credit for trying to do something new, but in the end it seems like other than cleaning out the hisses and pops, very little has actually truly changed. If you're fan of the previous work of Pole, tread gently (and skip the EPs and head directly for the album), but if you're looking to just start out with some of his work, head for his earlier releases.