While it’s not a necessity that an electronic artist be inventive with his palette to be successful, it sure doesn’t hurt. Electronic sounds have been part of the pop lexicon for long enough now that the typical listener hears sythesizers, sequencers, and drum machines the same way that he hears guitar, bass, and drums; that is, said listener doesn’t hear them at all. The instruments (or, “instruments”), when put together into song form, simply sound like music.
aKido, born Kim Gaboury, is not inclined to be inventive. Unfortunately, this puts him at a disadvantage, because for an electronic artist to not experiment with the sounds being used puts all the pressure on the songcraft. Fortunately, aKido’s songcraft is pretty good, and holds up on its own fairly well.
The disc opens on a strong note with the beautifully constructed “Instantine”, a veritable clinic in production. The sounds mesh together perfectly, and the insistent beat demands head nodding. Then, every so often, there’s a little programmed hi-hat motif that appears and just launches the thing forward. It’s a beautiful little track, and representative of the best work aKido has released to date.
That the rest of the disc can’t quite live up to its opener, then, is no real knock against it; while the rest never comes close to the understated energy of “Instantine”, there are plenty of intriguing and appealing moments throughout. Gaboury recruits Joyce Vallus (who also happens to be his girlfriend) to do vocals on “Radium Girls”, a pleasantly airy bit of ‘80s nostalgia pop crossed with the sort of synth play and production acumen that could only be achieved in 2010. “Mrchf Thftr” is a moody little thing, a minute-and-a-half of looped acoustic guitars and sparse pianos, all of it undercut by a hip-hop beat that never quite gets started. The title track is a beautiful, vaguely epic seven-minute track that starts with more acoustic guitars, but uses the chord progressions defined by those guitars to build the sort of heavily melodic lite-techno track Moby specializes in on his best days.
The problem with something like Gamechanger, which may in part be related to its very name, is that the praise for its best tracks is typically a mild sort of endorsement: these are not tracks to go crazy over, they are tracks to passively enjoy. Mixed in amongst the enjoyable tracks, too, are a number of tracks that simply aren’t; Gaboury’s no-frills approach can’t mask mediocre melodies, and his attempts at quirk and invention simply don’t go far enough. “Paper Chase” centers around a synth that sounds a little bit like a platypus trying to talk (this from someone who doesn’t know what a platypus actually sounds like). It’s a cute little thing, but the stuff behind it just isn’t memorable enough to lift it up to anything more than novelty. Basically, it’s Orbital on autopilot. Simlarly, the combination of a looped music box melody and R&B samples should make “Turnaround” an engaging listen, but, despite a sinister breakdown in the middle of it, the predictable layering of elements and the repetition of the melodies turn it into a tiring wait for the next track.
All of this to say: if you’re going to title your album Gamechanger, there should be something on it that listeners haven’t heard before.
Gaboury’s work on Gamechanger, while largely appealing and occasionally quite enjoyable, betrays the mission statement of its title. There is nothing particularly original or inventive about what he is doing. Perhaps it needs to be enough that he’s playing the game, and playing it pretty well to boot.