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Arling & Cameron

Hi-Fi Underground

(Challenge; US: 12 Sep 2006; UK: 12 Sep 2006)

Five years ago, Amsterdam-based technopranksters Gerry Arling and Richard Cameron were riding in a van on the way to a show when everything changed. The two of them had always been proud of their own artificiality—they used to call themselves EasyTune— and their willingness to steal any sound they needed in order to produce robo-cooled pop music. They’d collaborated with everyone from Bebel Gilberto to Pizzicato Five ( the latter on my single favorite album of all time, Happy End of the World), and were touring to support the brand-new album We Are A&C when their van flipped over. In the accident, Cameron broke his back.


It’s been a long road back, but I’m glad they’ve traveled it, because talented Dutch musical pirates are in short supply in the pop landscape. I just wish I liked their album more.


Part of the problem is that a lot has changed since 2001. It’s not like Hi-Fi Underground is old-fashioned, exactly; it’s more that a lot of the po-faced genre-jumbling that is supposed to enliven this record has already been done better, and somewhat fresher, recently. (Compare: LCD Soundsystem, Gnarls Barkley, etc.) The opening track and first European single, “Shake It”, is a straight bumper with a four-four beat stolen from Sly Stone’s “Dance to the Music” and lyrics jacked from the Beastie Boys, so it should be perfect, right? But it’s strangely subdued, and the energy just doesn’t seem to be there. And I don’t know why.


This problem persists throughout. The bleeps and beeps are all there, and every little detail seems to be in place, so their main strength is still in place. But very little here pops or stands out. Which is a shame, because that’s what the people need from a record like this.


At first, I thought it might be the fact that a lot of these songs have Very Serious Lyrics—it’s understandable, considering the Very Serious Events that have happened to them, but it also waters down the big shiny plasticity that I always loved about them. But then I realized that even a couple of the throwaways were bland. I mean, y’know, even the great idea to bring in Princess Superstar for a silly little song about computers ends up just kinda being a hugely wasted opportunity.


So ultimately, I think it’s just the five-year layoff that’s made them lose a few miles per hour off their fastball. And there are some encouraging signs. The melodies are still there; “Words” is as pretty as an anime goddess, and the gentle duet with Annika B on “Everything Will Be Alright” is way beyond emotional. “Popcorn 2006” is bubble-gum reggaeton, if you can imagine that. And if you’re not really expecting every single track to be glossy fun wacky pop nirvana, the album works really well as driving music and dishwashing music and wine-drinking music. And that’s just fine by me.


So while this one didn’t really hit the spot for me, I will be eagerly awaiting the next release from these two nutty Netherlanders. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up playing this album a lot before the year is out.

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