[27 February 2006]
In the last few years, IDM for its own sake seems to have become not enough. At the turn of the millennium, scores of new albums displaying alien electronic sounds and jittery percussion were coming out, often displaying a thrilling disregard for conventional song formats. As time has passed, the excitement has faded a bit, and the innovations of the IDM era have been reincorporated back into more traditional approaches, spawning such refreshing bastard children as “laptop folk” and “glitch-hop” in the process. In a striking example from last year, Warp Records’ Jamie Lidell demonstrated just how much has changed since his last fairly straight-ahead electronica release in 2000: he put out what is inarguably a soul record, however the production might draw from his usual tricks. But while this slide back towards convention has yielded undisputed gems, it also paved the way for blander material to slip in. With a fine command of Lidell-esque funk keyboards and vaguely IDM-inflected beat programming, but nothing in particular to say with it, the debut from Chicago’s Jimmy Edgar is one such album.
If Edgar seems to be borrowing heavily from Lidell’s keyboard and rhythm programming, he also seems to be making no attempt to hide this fact: his new release, Colorstrip, is also being put out by Warp, and he’ll be touring America in support of Lidell this spring. However, whereas Lidell managed to imbue both his funk-infused keyboards and his own, surprisingly convincing singing voice with retro conviction, Edgar has simply drawn away some of the other’s production technique, ducking behind vocal distortion and manipulation more comparable to fellow Midwesterner Mathew Dear, along with shades of Dear’s techno background. The combination makes for catchy electro, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s nothing new happening here, and that we’re left with an amalgam that, without Lidell’s soul and Dear’s sample-arrangement invention, is somewhat watered-down from its predecessors.
Even so, Edgar is certainly no slouch. His rhythms are crisp and satisfying, and the keys effectively balance between slickness and sleaze. Occasionally, glitched vocal clips also build into the rhythm for another familiar addition that still holds up well. The best tracks, like the instrumentals “LBLBDetroit” and “Semierotic”, gradually rise into an irresistible groove, the former falling into a smooth downtempo number, icy synth jabs skipping erratically across it, while the latter darts forward on layers of blips, handclaps, and a nice, raw organ part. The formulas are simple, but when they work they’re as difficult to resist as they’ve always been. Unfortunately, besides the vocals, which tend to distract from the music more than they compliment it, and typically offer little in the way of lyrical content to think about (“Girl, what you think about my beats, my beats?”), Edgar offers little variation on those formulas. The sole departure falls in the middle of the album in the ambient swirls and digital noise of “Telautraux”. Here, the vocals also become more intriguing, conveying a disconcerting dialogue from behind a curtain of reverb. But unfortunately, it’s a single interlude in an otherwise uniform project.
So it’s 2006, and long-lasting IDM labels like Warp are grasping for genre hybrids with more popular potential. There’s nothing wrong with this. The results are often fantastic. But on the flipside of that encouraging innovation is material that seems to display more of a watering down, however competently. Jimmy Edgar does what he does undeniably well. In Colorstrip he lays out solid blueprints, hopefully to be expanded upon as he finds his own sound and carves out a niche for himself.