The Low Spark of DIY Boys
Oh, I had a pan ready for this one. I asked for it because I kind of liked DJ You DJ Me’s track on Eenie Meenie’s Cookbook CD comp from last year, and I was intrigued to see what they’d pull off on their next full-length. And then, when I heard that it was an LP accompanied by a DVD, I wanted to see what they could do. Hey, they’ve directed videos for Beck and some other folks, and they’ve got a whole DIY thing going on, so maybe this would be a home-grown classic! The indie grail!
Then, I heard it, and I was just “Eh. This is collage techno that’s as cheap-sounding as the cover art, with blips and beeps where its heart should be, nowhere near as clever or cool as it obviously wants and needs to be to justify itself. It’s like they have a fear of success, so they’re heading it off at the pass by constructing sloppy homemade jams that anyone could do. Hell, they’re not even five seconds into ‘People Together’ before their female “la la” singer goes off-key! And I count at least five places on the disc where the breakdown is just a fraction off rhythmically, which either means they need an upgrade on their software or they just don’t give a rat’s ass.
“These aren’t even songs a lot of the time, dammit!” I continued. “‘Trouble’ is just repeating the same thing over and over for more than four minutes, and not in a good Krautrock way but more in a way-too-comfortable-and-impressed-with-itself way. ‘Fembot’ needs a sample-ectomy and a steady diet of P.Funk to help it get even to the point of being a song! And you’re not supposed to end a disc with your only good song!”
Honest, I said all that. And my mood wasn’t helped when I actually saw the DVD disc that presumably gives this LP its title. It’s just a couple of their videos, done in that same style that we all remember from Beck’s “Loser” video with no sense that they’ve bought any new equipment since then; hey, it doesn’t matter how hot the girl singer is on “Fresh Technology” is, showing her over and over and over in the same two clips saying the same one thing is just NOT innovative or interesting. Although, yeah, she’s hot as a baker. And damn if there isn’t some of the most incompetent-looking live footage I’ve ever seen on the disc too. They look, frankly, like they really don’t know what they’re doing onstage . . . not exactly the kind of thing you should include on your DVD if you have a shred of sense at all.
So that was going to be my review—until I got off my critical high horse and listened to the music instead of trying to “see” it, or the reason or need or intention behind it. I was making the classic mistake of bad critics, and I’m sorry about that. This is actually a fun little record. Yeah, I was right about all the things I said before, but that doesn’t mean I understood the damned thing at all. For example, I didn’t give “Fresh Technology” the song enough credit for having some actual funk behind its cheesy exterior, and lo and behold it does have some. They could afford to take some of the “ironic” robot shit off it—also a problem with Beck’s Midnite Vultures album—but overall it’s groovy in an extremely lo-fi way. And that spoken bit from the video (“I like it when you talk to me like that / Now put it, put it, put it where it’s at”) sounds better than it looks.
And, while I’m off my soapbox, let me keep handing out some compliments. “Salsa and Microchips” isn’t the most innovative electronic dance track I’ve ever heard, but it’s got some great metal guitar loops in it (adapted ever so slightly from Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”?) and some nicely layered chickenscratch shit and a Big Beat that won’t quit. “Trouble” isn’t so bad after all, “Zodiac Ape” could be a lot worse, and “Galactic Africa” brings it with the mbira jive, which is always gonna cut it with me, and adds some weirdo horn sounds and flatulent synths, both of which I also love.
Sure, there’s some things here that still piss me off a little (please, people, don’t reference “One Nation Under a Groove” if you haven’t earned your George Clinton Appreciation Card), but overall this is actually pretty good stuff. I’m impressed, ultimately, against many of the fibers of my being. Maybe I’m being overgenerous, here, but what the hell. They’re DIY and proud of it, and they don’t mess things up too badly. That’s okay with me.
// Notes from the Road
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