Two electro-house giants fail to assuage fears that their genre has hit a creative wall.
The rise of electro-house marked an interesting shift in electronic music, as youthful DJs and fans, largely fueled by a burgeoning network of music blogs perpetually offering the latest wave of raved-up indie-dance tunes, threatened to reinvent dance music culture for Generation Web 2.0. Within a short time, genre leaders like Justice and Simian Mobile Disco were hailed as new-school pop savants, labels such as Ed Banger and Kitsuné became electronic music powerhouses, and the bombastic sounds of electro-house flooded onto dancefloors around the globe. Yet the very medium which had nurtured this movement—the internet—soon threatened to kill it, as bedroom producers and sonic copycats, driven by fantasies of following in their new-found heroes' footsteps and becoming the internet's "next big thing" themselves, let loose a spew of cookie-cutter productions. Predictably, electro-house found one formula and stuck to it—distorted synths, heavy bass, "party, love, dance, party" themes, and ad nauseam four-on-the-floor beats. And with each successive banger, the genre furthered its transformation from cause célèbre to punchline.
So now, as electro-house stands on its creative last legs, Boys Noize and Vitalic, two respected veterans of the scene, are each releasing new albums. While hopes run high that these guys could breathe some creative life back into the sound, their records only serve to perpetuate the notion that electro-house has grown stagnant. Power, the sophomore full-length from rave-obsessed German producer Alexander Ridha (a.k.a. Boys Noize), finds him rehashing ideas from previous singles, remixes, and his debut album, Oi Oi Oi. "Kontact Me," Power's first real rave-up, features massive synths and a robot vocal loop ripped straight from Deadmau5' repertoire, and the track's occasional slap 'n' pop basslines sound suspiciously like something out of Justice's sample bank. Not until midway through the album do we get an inkling of something unfamiliar, as the cave-drop percussion and handclaps of "Nerve" offer a short break from the incessant onslaught of frantic noise. The stomping "Trooper" and the more playful "Drummer" also begin with something more sonically alluring, giving the listener a vision of new territory his music could pioneer, but these reprieves are ultimately short-lived, as Boys Noize seemingly itches to introduce buzzing waveforms whenever possible.
On the other hand, Vitalic (a.k.a. Pascal Arbez) has been in the game long enough to know that a good hook can go a long way. Maybe due to his history in the more song-oriented electroclash scene—his debut Poney EP came out on International Deejay Gigolo in 2001—the French beatsmith is certainly more thoughtful with his productions. Whereas younger artists tend to suffocate their listeners with claustrophobic noise and mind-numbing beats, on Flashmob, Vitalic's sophomore album, the seasoned producer manages to trade in fuzzed-out electro without sacrificing his penchant for conventional pop songwriting. The album is full of hummable pop melodies, memorable song structures, and even the occasional human voice. "Poison Lips" comes across like a Kylie Minogue B-side, while the cowbell percussion of "Terminateur Benelux" could be some sort of warped tribute to the fellow dancefloor acolytes of DFA. Still, even some of the more interesting romps on Flashmob, such as the vocal hook-heavy "One Above One" and the Crystal Castles-indebted "Your Disco Song," sound very old-hat, and any track worth repeated listens is sure to eventually be filed under "guilty pleasure" for the non-fanboys.
Despite their well-produced attempts, both Boys Noize and Vitalic seem unwilling, or perhaps unable, to avoid beating the proverbial dead horse. Boys Noize takes the, um, noisy front on Power while Vitalic's Flashmob represents the more melodic side of electro-house, but each fall back on routine more often than they further a tired sound.
Boys Noize Power: 4/10
Vitalic Flashmob: 6.5/10