I suppose it's been a pretty lackluster summer so far for me, musically speaking. Despite the critical praise, I've been rather underwhelmed by a lot of the recent high-profile releases. Neon Bible reminds me of a disc ripe with Funeral b-sides and castaways. Spoon's latest LP has me nodding my head but I find it better suited to background music during a poker game than to helping me through my daily commute. Battles certainly make interesting music, although they sound like the soundtrack to finding your way out of a corn maze or some likewise ordeal; they're not high in replay value.
So I've been scouring around for something new, something exciting. The hip-hop world isn't doing squat to help. Between lackluster new singles from 50 Cent, T.I. and Kanye, a seemingly endless stream of mediocre mixtapes, and barebones poppy blather like "Lip Gloss," it's been a
barren wasteland of bling, soap-operatic scandal and vapid lyrics. (One exception would be Pharoahe Monch's Desire, a record seemingly eons in the making that manages to inject honest-to-goodness creativity through its slick production, intelligent lyrics and unconventional delivery.)
In a fit of desperation one afternoon I tuned into BBC Radio 1, which gratefully provides an excellent streaming audio selection of both its live programming and archived shows. They manage to provide a reasonable diversity in a week's worth of DJ slots: Top 40 pop, rap, indie music, and that lumbering dinosaur of 90s culture, electronica.
My fascination with electronic music pretty much coincided with the rest of America's. The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk ensnared me just after Trainspotting lured me in with Underworld's pulsating
soundtrack cuts. MTV's Amp program let me delve a bit deeper, where I discovered David Holmes, Hooverphonic and other mainly European groups. By 1998 I was buying vinyl, DJ'ing drum n' bass shows and letting Aphex Twin simultaneously
terrify and captivate me.
By 2001 it all seemed sort of hokey, though. I'd thoroughly come down from my high and returned to rock and hip-hop, those pillars of college music consumption. And so it was with trepidation that I decided to listen in on some of Radio 1's electronic shows the other day. Soon enough, it was 1998 all over again.
Techno seemingly never died in Great Britain, as the station occupies most of its prime weekend evening slots to dance music: breakbeat, house and other genres that to the untrained ear sound not unlike abused robots screaming in unison. For me it's refreshing -- electronic music always harbored a fun spirit, the perfect soundtrack for long weekends with friends. The DJs on Radio 1 carry on that spirit, with usually seamless sets of thumping, beeping tracks running together in a steady stream of drum machines and synthesizers.
After several tracks had me reminiscing of summer house parties and long Saturday road trips, I did some sleuthing. It turns out that a fair amount of these electronic gems are coming from Australia. As the UK maintains the foundation for the dance music tradition, the Aussies
are doing their part to strip away the characteristic stiff upper lip and infuse some smiling sunshine into the mix. Judge for yourself:
Bagraiders have probably the most infectious music I've heard this side of Homework; it's the technical finesse of Ratatat without
the repetitiveness that tends to weigh that particular group down. Van She are making terrific dance remixes of rock tunes, although their original output can sound a bit like Men At Work on mushrooms. Speaking of which, Decoder Ring certainly harken back to the ethereal aesthetic of the 90s but with a modern sensibility anchored by a more organic guitar approach. Cut Copy steer more towards the dance floor than the headphones, edging up to the cheesy packed-club megamix songs you'll find on amusement park commercials and video game soundtracks but thankfully slamming on the brakes with their refined instrumentation. Now if only The Avalanches would finally follow up their classic 2001 LP Since I Left You.
It's ironic that a country currently experiencing winter would have the soundtrack for my summer. But in the Mars-like landscape of new music, I'll take what I can get.