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Heiko Voss has earned near mythical status as a torchbearer for the emotional, deeply felt and quietly radical style of electronic music. The blissed-out radiance of his Kompakt Pop single, “I Think About You” remains one of the label catalog highlights and a stellar run of collaborative singles as Schaeben & Voss; others might know him for his stewardship of the excellent, much-underrated Firm imprint. But with his new album, 3:30 Minutes To Live, released by Michael Mayer’s label Imara, Voss returns after a long silence with a beautiful collection of songs that hymn heartbreak with a lusciously melodic touch. There is something definitive and newly confident in 3:30 Minutes To Live that has it feeling like a real statement of intent if compared to his earlier releases. “Although it’s not, 3:30 Minutes To Live feels like my debut album,” Voss reflects. “All releases before were more song sketches or electronic dance tracks.” Bunkering down in Teary Eyes Studio, Voss worked up somewhere between thirty and forty sketches of songs, which he whittled down to the twelve collected here, all of them situated in a unique space, but very much in accord with Voss’s defining aesthetic, which he describes as “indie pop music with a lot of guitar, electronic elements and a great love for melancholic ‘80s synth-lines.” Voss is sensitive to both variety and consistency – 3:30 Minutes To Live sits together as an assured, vibrant collection of pop songs, but it’s marked by all kinds of surprising incident, like the guitar solo that erupts out of “This Is My Life”, or the acoustic guitar-led melancholy of the closing “This Summer”. It’s all borne of the alchemy of the studio process and the intimate romance of music-making. “If you constantly feel a little bit like you’re in love while writing and producing your music – simply because of the sound of the synth flowing warmly and gently through the room, or because the sequence of notes awakens something in you, or even a randomly arising groove in the loop of a guitar lick makes you shout, ‘Ha!!’ – then it usually becomes a beautiful song,” Voss nods. “Those moments make me happy.” There’s also a delicious tension between the push of the music, its melodic lushness and gliding, ballerina-like movement, and the darker currents that pull through Voss’s lyrics, inspired by a “short, dramatic and toxic love affair.” This may read like familiar terrain for a pop album, but the way Voss weaves language through both the extra-linguistic joys of music and the inarticulate speech of the heart somehow allows for direct communication that is simultaneously plain-spoken and deeply profound. “Say It” is a simple, devastatingly effective plaint of alienation; “She Wasn’t Lonely” a simple portrait of everyday living set to chiming, clacking guitars, the music in the bridge taking astral flight as the titular character ‘lets herself go.’ A smart and sharp collection of songs that captures you with its gorgeous melodicism just as it blindsides you with its aching heart, 3:30 Minutes To Live is Heiko Voss at his most assured and open-hearted best.
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