[9 March 2012]
“I Feel Space”, Lindstrøm’s thrilling breakthrough hit was titled, but by the time his debut full-length Where You Go I Go Too dropped in 2008, he positively embodied it. This was truly space-disco at its most expansive: a patter of twinkly electronics seemed to transport us to a distant sheen of stars, a bass fluctuation to wisp us past a supernova, a fleeting synth to guide us through the birth and death of a star. Fast-forward to 2010, however, and the Norwegian producer had come firmly down to earth. Real Life Is No Cool, his sweaty, restless collaboration with improvising vocalist Christabelle, may have mined the same decades as his previous work for inspiration, but where Where You Go I Go Too was steeped in prog rock’s epic grandeur, Real Life strutted funk and soul.
Anyone hoping the release of another solo album would herald a return to the shimmering galaxies of Lindstrøm’s debut will be disappointed by Six Cups of Rebel: this latest effort is firmly in the Real Life is No Cool vein, stuffed with frantic rhythms, thumping basslines and distorted vocals (this time from Hans-Peter Lindstrøm himself). Real Life is No Cool poured out of the speakers in an energetic torrent, constantly shifting and twitching, channelling modern technology as much as it did nostalgia, and Six Cups of Rebel is similarly vigorous. But while with Christabelle the music more often than not congealed into genuinely memorable songs, here Lindstrøm seems afraid of letting melody get a word in edgeways.
Opener “No Release” is aptly titled. Five minutes of church organ breathlessly scales over a gradually ascending bass synth motif, but for all its build-up of tension it never explodes into anything more compelling. Repetition is a familiar trope of Lindstrøm’s back-catalogue, but this is a constraining intro to nothing. Too often across Six Cups the scatological is made the focus. “De Javu” marries a marching funk bassline to parps of electro-horns and chanting high-pitched vocal mantras, but while it is hard not to get swept up in its gasping whirlwind of handclaps and burring synths, once it’s spat you out again you won’t quite remember what went on in there. There are snatches of catchy melody within the maelstrom. “Don’t you get that feeling that you’ve been here before”, queries Hans-Peter, in a sly nod to his own gleeful magpieism, and when that refrain turns into a call-and-response with a Muppet-voiced cry of “It’s a kind of magic” on third track “Magik”, we veer close to getting our mitts on a woozy club banger, but fidgety Lindstrøm doesn’t linger on many hooks for long. So it’s no surprise when thirty seconds of a blissful synth line are uncompromisingly swallowed by a cosmic choir, which is in turn drowned out by an echoing stadium-rock guitar solo at the start of sulky chugger “Quiet Place to Live”.
The highlight of Real Life is No Cool was the anthemic party thumper “Lovesick”, a pouting number so unabashedly catchy it felt like it had been around for decades. “Quiet Place to Live” sports a similarly poundingly familiar bassline, but with none of its predecessor’s instant appeal. “Call Me Anytime” does a better job of endearing itself, hypnotic babble building over satisfyingly au fait synth chatter, but it still never quite takes off, whilst “Six Cups of Rebel” pairs a preening pulse with interjections of stirring Talking Heads bass but gradually breaks down amidst robotic throbs, the laughter and exploratory percussion that fade in and out nodding to Dark Side of the Moon‘s scene-setting interpolations.
Closer “Hina” finds Lindstrøm in more reflective Tangerine Dream territory, but the approach is still to gradually bend patterns out of shape rather than pursue a melodic arc. Wistful vocals and squirming synths make for an immersive ten minutes, but when it (and the album) is all over the lingering echoes are of dizziness and disappointment. Lindstrøm has continued to do singular and effervescent things with long-forgotten musical guilty pleasures, and nobody else out there is making music that sounds quite like this. But ultimately I wish Lindstrøm wasn’t either.
“I really believe in mixing up everything, and having no respect for the traditional way of doing things”, Lindstrøm has said of the process behind Six Cups of Rebel. That is an entirely valid approach, and so far it has led him to create some of the finest dance music of the 21st century. Six Cups of Rebel is just too mixed-up. This multi-coloured aural onslaught ought to be thrilling, and sometimes it almost is, but Lindstrøm throws so many half-formed ideas around that they end up crushing each other and emerging as fragmented mulch. Every brief glimpse of a killer hook or a vital synth pattern just serves to compound what might have been. Six is several too many cups of rebel, and this caffeine-fuelled carnival proves to be all flashing lights and empty tents. Turns out not every planet our intrepid space-disco explorer discovers is habitable after all.