Strategy - Strategy
Strategy, pseudonym of Portland-based producer, DJ, and electronic musician Paul Dickow, is the kind of project that you're gonna have to attach to either twenty genre tags or zero genre tags. That is to say, the music that Dickow creates brings together such a wide range of styles and influences that, by the time you're done listing 'em all, you might as well just shrug your shoulders helplessly and call it "electronic."
Dickow released his third full-length record as Strategy, Future Rock, in 2007, a year in which minimal techno was approaching a zenith of popularity. Future Rock fit neatly into this scenario. Wedged in between the likes of Pantha Du Prince and the Field, its extended grooves felt both familiar and fresh, like microhouse's dubby, more organic second-cousin. Dickow's ability to mesh together a nearly encyclopedic collection of electronic styles was at the forefront, bringing together the sounds of downtempo, dub, techno, and even hints of dreamy pop to compose his ambient soundscapes.
Strategy is Dickow's first full-length release since Future Rock dropped five years ago, and it more or less finds him up to the same sort of tricks. The music, while uniformly spacey and driven by chunky basslines, continues to meld rock and dance genres of all kinds into a seamless, evolving groove. But even if Strategy sees Dickow keeping the same alchemical approach that Future Rock took, it doesn't mean he's sticking to the same ingredients. Elements of dub, funk, krautrock, and techno weave in and out of these tracks, and the mixed-and-matched feel gives each track a distinctive flavor. Take your pick: 'Objects of Desire' applies James Blake's dubpop approach to downtempo and trip hop; 'Saturn's Day' plays like an brooding, ambient take on Booker T. & The M.G.'s funk; 'Dilemmas' falls somewhere between 90s ambient techno and 70s progressive, and 'Sugar Drop' comes closer to pure ambient pop than Future Rock ever did.
On the first side of the record especially, Strategy amps up the vocal elements that Dickow used more sparingly on Future Rock and places them smack-dab in the center of tracks like 'Sugar Drop' and 'Objects of Desire'. Strategy is still a dance record, and Dickow uses his voice much like a dance producer might use a central sample or synth, keeping it in the forefront and building his progressions around it. 'Baby Fever', meanwhile, is if nothing else the most memorable moment on the record, an awkward attempt at an almost James Murphy-esque dance punk number - it treads a thin line between catchy and incessant before redeeming itself with a wailing free jazz breakdown.
But it's on the second side of the record, where Dickow focuses less on vocally driven electronic experiments and more on tight, instrumental grooves, that Strategy really shines. 'Friends and Machines' is the straight-up tightest groove on the record, a veritable soup of guitars, keyboards, synth washes, and found sounds all anchored down to a series of increasingly funky dub basslines. 'Dilemmas', the album's closer and longest track, makes a strong grab for MVP as well, it's peaks and valleys providing some of the records most hypnotic moments.
At 37 minutes, Strategy is a little slight for a dance record, and it can feel a little insubstantial for that reason. But, short of a few missteps, it serves as a potent document of Dickow's talents as a producer and musician. Even if he hasn't outdone Future Rock, Dickow's matched his best without repeating himself, and that makes at least one thing certain: it'll be very interesting to see where he goes from here.