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E:gum

Keyboard Lies

(Klein; US: 16 May 2005; UK: 20 Jun 2005)

e:gum is Hans Platzgumer and Jens Doring, Austrian producers with an ear for turning the abrasive sounds of modern electro and IDM into unlikely pop music. Their beats are harsh and their riffs are scratched and pixelated, but their hooks are strong and sharp—an interesting juxtaposition that makes for distinctive, if occasionally underwhelming results.


Keyboard Lies stumbles with the realization that e:gum are nowhere near the songwriters they need to be. Tracks like the opening “Stop 2” succeed on the basis of the propulsive beats, but despite singer Catriona Shaw’s winning presence the actual songs themselves fall flat. Take these lyrics, from the beginning of “Stop 2”:


“Voices swim, make a soundstream, /
Wash of words sound more like screams, /
Energy beams, duet teams, /
Unravel me at broken seams. /
Even when I get my tone set, /
I can feel I get my hair wet.


The mix of technological imagery and non-sequitur lends the words an insubstantial feel that undercuts the strong rhythms. The first song is especially a good example of this dichotomy, featuring a strong electro stomp undercut by ragged synthesizer phrases—perhaps it wears after a few minutes, but it is a memorable rhythm nonetheless.


“Shake It” features one of the album’s strongest beats, a slamming bit of deconstructed IDM that builds a funky momentum throughout the course of the song. But the the generic lyrics point to a lack of imagination at the track’s conception:


“We are only one, /
And we get the party on, /
We’ll turn you up, we’ll turn you down, /
We’ll shake it.”


Having heard words like this spoken and sung literally more times than I could conceivably count, the banal sentiment is an unfortunate drag on the album’s enjoyment.


Another problem is the fact that Platzgumer and Doring’s conception of pop is unfortunately stripped-down. Most tracks on Keyboard Lies feature one signiture beat through the whole track, with little melodic progression or elaboration. To a large degree the tracks sound as if they were recorded entirely in advance of Shaw’s vocal contributions, with her singing merely mixed over the top. The best beats can become boring in constant repetition, and unfortunately that is what happens on many track here. Of course, there are exceptions, such as “Menzies Hill”, which switches gear about halfway through and continuously builds for the duration, and “Dislocate”, with its ever-changing video-game melodies—but these exceptions are still hampered by patchy lyrics.


Keyboard Lies is an interesting attempt at crafting a pop album from the vantage point of modern electro and IDM templates, but it falls short of the goal due to weak lyrics and repetitive beats. As much as I wish I could give the album a higher grade, it palls next to some of the honestly adventuresome and sonically diverse experimental music produced for mainstream and alternative radio by producers such as the Neptunes, Kanye West and Richard X.

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