The idea of a guy forming a band of robots or computers to make futuristic electronic music is pretty much as old as electronic music itself. I am not even comfortable calling it a cliché at this point; can we call it post-cliché? Do we now live in a post-cliché era? It doesn’t matter. Who cares? Certainly not Jackson and His Computerband, who are mainly interested in making stomping, synth-heavy electronic music.
But then again, the history, aesthetics, and well-worn stylistic gestures of electronic music weigh heavily on Jackson and His Computerband on their new record Glow. It is hard not to be reminded of everyone from Bruce Haack to Kraftwerk to Stereolab to Add N to (X) while listening to Glow, not to mention their ubiquitous, unavoidable countrymen Daft Punk. This is an endless, circumambulatory conversation that goes on forever: “So-and-so sounds like so-and-so.” “But isn’t everyone influenced by someone else? Is originality even possible?” “Yeah, but this song really reminds me of So-and-So…” And so it goes, around and around forever.
At the end of the day it all comes down to how any one individual, or group of individuals, connects with and enjoys a particular genre’s conventions. To my eyes, this type of kitschy, 1960s sci-fi-inspired computer rock sounds a bit tired in 2013. This is not to say that Glow is not a cool record with some good songs on it, because it is. There is a fair amount of variation on here, like on the mid-record scorcher “Blood Bust”, when Jackson and the gang go all gabber on us. But Glow never feels as whimsical or demented as Bruce Haack, and while this stuff may have seemed amusingly retro in 1998 or so, in 2013 Glow feels like especially well-trodden territory.
But whereas many of these ‘60s-robots-playing-music type bands often sound cute and somehow scaled down, as if they are performing on the set of a children’s TV show like the great Bruce Haack, Jackson and His Computerband frequently sound big and booming. You can imagine this stuff pumping through some cavernous warehouse in some industrial part of Paris. This is unmistakably dance music, and it will have a healthy audience for that reason alone. The production is excellent, with vocals and skronking synths popping out at you through the thumping and bumping. In many ways it is the vocals that really sell this record to me; they’re sometimes clear and comprehensible, other times garbled and hallucinatory, but always engaging and well-placed.
As Daft Punk continue to take over the world, I’m sure that fellow Frenchman Jackson and His Computerband will rock dozens of parties across the globe with his brand of fun, sometimes epic electronic music. The fact that they are on the pretty much always awesome Warp Records does not hurt either; the folks down at Warp specialize in bringing us the best party music out there, and I can only hope that Jackson and His Computerband know how to bring their stuff to a live setting. Fun? Yes. Original? No. I will leave it to you to decide where that equation balances out regarding your particular taste in music.