Various Artists

Hypercity: Mixed by Andrew Weatherall (Force Tracks)

What's the point of listening to house music on a dinky stereo? Absent a mass of freaks shimmying on the dance floor and the bass-induced rattle of empty cocktail glasses, house often sounds empty, devoid of edge, easy. And these days, house has assumed the same aural role once dominated by Muzak: background music harnessed to motivate consumers to buy Powerbooks, panties and Passats, music used to trick young purchasers into responding in Pavlovian fashion to the 4/4 party pound, to imagine their fave rave as they decide whether to buy the Bug in puke green or pee yellow. House is everywhere -- which explains why the hipsters and the smarties seem particularly dismissive of the music. You don't think about house music; you either grind to it or, anymore, listen to it during commercial breaks for Dharma & Greg.

Over the past couple years, though, a house style has been developing that approaches the music from a more cerebral point of view. The Force Tracks label, out of Germany, has been releasing particularly challenging tracks with amazing sounds, tonal subtlety and an overall experimental vibe that dictates active, not passive, listening. Call it microhouse, minimal tech house, glitch house, blip house or any other of the dumb-ass names currently used to signify the new style. It doesn't matter. The music manages to be both smart and challenging without sacrificing its original purpose: dance inducement.

Hypercity collects some of the essential cuts released by Force Tracks over the past two years in a continual DJ mix by legendary London DJ/half of Two Lone Swordsmen Andrew Weatherall. He's one of the most adventuresome house and techno DJs around, and it's no coincidence that Weatherall's got his name tacked onto Hypercity.

The mix starts with MRI (whose full-length Rhythmogenesis was one of the best records of last year). Their "Human Patterns" sets aural parameters that remain throughout the 70-minute mix: warm organ tones that often sound like a gussied-up Fender Rhodes; itsy-bitsy micro beats, the antithesis of the usual monster house echo pound; a rhythmic complexity that seldom overindulges. Scissor-snip sounds compete with distant snares, dry bass bumps, bamboo pops and hoof clomps to create a propulsive drive that's never as fascistic as, say, your average Armand Van Helden track. Most of these rhythms scuttle along like a centipede climbing through gravel, a march that dips and meanders, then dives into brief bouts of chaos followed by an inevitable return to order. Weatherall keeps it all moving, introducing tracks quietly and invisibly; without a glance at the CD display, the lot of Hypercity could be perceived as one long-ass composition. Only by checking to see when one cut ends and the next begins can you figure out who-what-where. The mix is one of the best so far this year, an amazing collection that blossoms and bursts with color.

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