Credit: Skee Mask
by Joshua Minsoo Kim Music

Best Albums of 2021: Skee Mask | Pool

January 8, 2022

#23. At more than 100 minutes long, Skee Mask’s Pool has the immersive depth and feel of an entire ocean. His previous full-lengths already had the feel of proper albums, yes, but here the German producer finds a way to simultaneously expand and refine his genre-blending sonic palette. Ultimately, Pool is an album so rich in its details and influences that it feels like a love letter to what informs it. There’s IDM, breakbeat, and drill ‘n’ bass. There are caustic outbursts and downtempo exercises. There‘s Detroit techno and bleep techno and ambient techno. The list goes on.

But more than offering a mental game in genre-mapping, Pool is always enveloped in a tenderness felt in both its meticulous editing and atmospheric warmth; these tracks don’t feel ostentatious or eye-roll worthy in their studied nature, but instead are just good-hearted dance tracks that are as fun to think about as they are to feel. Take “Testo BC Mashup” — the album’s longest track and a masterful centerpiece — which begins with scuffed-up warbles and bombastic, clanging gabber that could easily situate it in a contemporary hyperpop playlist, but it soon disintegrates into speckled synths blanketing a moody breakbeat. As the song mutates, it does so in stepwise fashion, changing the timbre of a kick at one point, changing the rhythmic flash of its synths at another, even taking detours into footwork-adjacent territories. All this shapeshifting would be a calamitous mess in the hands of a lesser artist, but Skee Mask ties it together in legible, exhilarating fashion.

More single-minded tracks are mesmerizing too, with the field recordings ambient murk of “Absence” acting as a meditative repose from the frantic beats of the rest of the album. Sometimes tracks take a single idea and run with it because it’s entertaining enough: “60681z,” for example, is all about its ability to occupy an electro sci-fi headspace without reaching total catharsis, while “Crosssection” takes a hazy R&B vocal and lets its vaporous melodies wrap around a pogoing beat. Every track brims with possibility, and the sheer length of Pool makes it seem like Skee Mask is excited to show you all his tricks, and to make listeners feel how limitless these familiar sounds really are.