Dutch born musician Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) has been in the game for 15 years. A musician exhibiting wide range, Junkie XL serves as a producer, teacher, composer, and remixer. He’s assisted Hans Zimmer on numerous film scores (including The Dark Knight Rises and Inception) as well as provided music for a variety of video games. After a four-year hiatus, Junkie XL returns in top-notch form with 2012 release Synthesized, via Nettwerk. Although he receives assistance vocally and compositionally from various guests, Junkie XL handles instrumental and production duties himself.
“Take Off on Molly’s E”, a mostly instrumental cut, initiates Synthesized with minimalistic, electronic production work. Musical changes move relatively slowly, but there is gradual evolution throughout the course. Rhythmic without buttressing percussive backdrop, “Take Off on Molly’s E” is quite unique. Closing with an Eddie Cochran spoken sample (“...If you ask them [teenagers] what it is about rock n roll music they like, they say the beat, the beat the beat!”), the spacey opener segues into “Off the Dancefloor”.
“Off the Dancefloor” sports a pounding, electronic beat conducive to dance. Additionally, the production work is well-crafted, not overproduced in the least. Featuring feisty vocals and lyrics from Isis Salam, “Off the Dancefloor” employs a risqué, care-free approach. The chorus is irresistible (“I’m waiting for the light to see / A wonderful life unfold / I’ve never seen this side of you before…”), capped off by frat-boy sensible chanted lyric “get yo ass off the dancefloor!”
“Leave Behind Your Ego” samples Timothy Leary via “The Psychological Experience: Going Out” supported by repetitive, minimalistic synth and pounding electro beat. After Leary’s mysterious spoken word sample concludes (“...the goal of this trip is ecstasy”), clapping drums aid in differentiating the production. A haunting synthetic vocal patch continues to build up the burgeoning layers. “Synthesized” is consistent, featuring vocals by Anneli Axon (“Your love for me is synthesized / what lies beneath those angel eyes…”) Like cuts preceding it, it is nearly impossible not to tap to the rhythm or nod your head to the beat.
“When Is Enough Not Enough” is exceptional, featuring vocals and songwriting from Tears For Fears’s Curt Smith. Albeit it lengthy at six and half minutes, “When Is Enough Not Enough” is always exhilarating whether it is Junkie XL’s fierce production or Smith’s smooth tenor. “Twilight Trippin’” hence, has a difficult act to follow. It’s not too shabby featuring lovely and lush pads and textures, but lacks the prowess of its predecessor.
Tommie Sunshine vocalizes on the fine “Love Machine”, which features biting guitar, synthesized strings, and buttressing drums. “Gloria” back steps only minimally, featuring rock-oriented vocals from Fredrik Saroea of Datarock. “Gloria” suffers from some over-repetition, but isn’t a total deal breaker. “Bonzai” similarly has slow pacing about it (despite quick tempo), with musical changes evolving gradually. The groove remains Junkie XL’s ‘best friend’ even as “Bonzai” is less notable than juggernauts like “Off the Dancefloor” or “When Is Enough Not Enough”.
“Klatshing!” atones for improprieties with Junkie XL making ‘adjustments’ to the formula. It arrives timely to prohibit Synthesized from becoming monotonous. While the only vocals featured are an opening spoken word sample, the instruments easily carry the weight. A palette of distorted and raucous sounds propel “Klatshing!” making it one of the album’s strongest.
Penultimate cut “Kill the Band” features a vocal sample courtesy of Fredrik Saroea. As adrenaline-savvy as “Klatshing!”, it does not reach the same caliber. Concluding number “The Art of Luxurious Intergalactic Time Travel” is as alluring as its title, evolving slowly but surely. Lengthy, yet a true, noteworthy tonal poem, “Intergalactic” closes the album solidly regardless of duration.
All in all, Synthesized is a fascinating affair. It maintains the basic tenets of electronic music, but rarely pigeonholes itself, allowing for musical contrasts. It has one stretch that threatens over-dependance on ‘sameness’, but Junkie XL atones timely. With gems like “Off the Dancefloor”, “When Is Enough Not Enough”, and “Klatshing!”, there is more than enough to please the listener.