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DJ Koze’s Knock Knock Brings a Full Range of Emotions to the Club

DJ Koze

Despite being a DJ, Stefan Kozalla seems disinterested in producing music solely meant for the dancefloor. Yes, his 2015 breakout single “XTC” had all the workings of an underground hit: woozy synths, a thundering house beat, and a provocative vocal waxing curious about “the drug ecstasy.” But in interviews, and on his 2013 album Amygdala, DJ Koze makes clear that his M.O. is much more of a crate dive than a few calculated keystrokes on Ableton. On Amygdala, rightfully heralded as a genre-defying triumph, Koze leaned into vocal collaborations and away from drum-machine presets and computer-generated beats; on his first record in five years, knock knock, Koze continues to push the limits of sampling and looping, while touching on potent topics like heartbreak and nostalgia. From granular record hisses and crackles to an cheerful vintage radio jingle, Kozalla dots knock knock with flourishes that lend the tracks a sense of history and familiarity.

The record opens with the anxious synth loops of “Club der Ewigkeiten” and a flute progression, a fitting balance of caprice and melancholy that gives a strong sense of the album to come. Ewigkeiten roughly translates to “eons” or “eternities,” and one gets the sense early in the record that Koze isn’t making music for a night out—he’s making music for so many giddy, dazed mornings after, when a soft voice is more welcome than a killer techno beat. And even more so than on previous records, DJ Koze leans into his vocal samples, allowing them to guide his rhythms and define the atmosphere of each song through their lyrics.

To that end, he follows “Ewigkeiten” with “Bonfire,” a track that pairs gurgling synths and steel drums with a vocal sample from Bon Iver’s “Calgary.” Like many of Koze’s cross-genre experiments, his beat-matching expertise guarantees that the combination works better than it ever should on paper: Recalling Jamie xx, Koze uses Justin Vernon’s voice as a launchpad for a symphony of small synth progressions, each entering the track for a few bars before fading. More so than previous releases, Koze’s choice of collaborators defines each track, like an expansive mood board with unique spokes for each vocalist. The sensitive, subdued Jose Gonzales lends to “Music on my Teeth” lyrics and an intonation so gentle they might be outshined if not for the equally muted production, centered on a lo-fi guitar recording that sounds as if conjured from a memory.

But both of these tracks prelude the heart of the album, which calls on vintage disco and R&B, as well as more traditional house and techno, to prove (as if there were doubt after 10-plus years of four-hour DJ sets) that Kozalla can still produce a damn good beat. “Illumination,” featuring the inimitable rasp and falsetto of Roisin Murphy, is a dancefloor hit in the style of Koze: organic accents like horns and a wonky guitar progression accompany a pulsating synth that carries the song forward. Just when things have settled into a groove, Roisin switches gears, deadpanning “I need a bit of light here,” a brash refrain that delivers a wellspring of momentum to push the track towards its conclusion. On “Pick Up,” DJ Koze samples from Gladys Knight’s warm vocal from “Neither One of Us,” transforming the ‘70s ballad into pensive disco. At nearly seven minutes, the track takes its time building and removing drum beats to underscore Knight’s heavy-hearted lyrics: “I guess neither one of us wants to be the first to say goodbye.”

Kozalla has frequently discussed that he’s interested in exploring the liminality of emotion, of feeling anxiety or even sadness in the club. knock knock leaves the impression that DJ Koze is just as interested in the lyrics of his selected vocalists as the beat behind them; the result is an eclectic mix of tempos and moods that maintain Kozalla’s sense of whimsy without sacrificing earnestness.