Radio Citizen Hope And Despair

The four years that it's taken Berlin composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist Niko Schabel to deliver a follow-up to his Radio Citizen moniker's rather noteworthy 2006 debut, Berlin Serengeti, was worth the wait. Hope & Despair is an altogether tougher, more aggressive platter that expands upon the saturnine textures only hinted at on Serengeti's sonic outskirts, resulting in some seriously stimulating, stark grooves. "Test Me" establishes the mood of unease right away, with Ursula Rucker waxing poetic over some especially spooky strings and a head bobbing, exhilarating upright bass line that turns the title from a challenge into a threat. Temporary relief is offered with the reggae reverie of "Summer Days," which features a sumptuous vocal spot from Bajka that oddly isn't out of place on such an unsettling album. The Lalo Schifrin-inspired "Last Exit" is a prime piece of moody, nourishing funk that conjures up nothing less than the psychotic atmosphere of Schifrin's Dirty Harry soundtrack so well you'll swear the Scorpio Killer was back on the prowl. Hope & Despair is strong stuff. (Ubiquity)