[17 November 2009]
House music has certainly come a long, long way since its origins in the legendary Chicago nightclub The Warehouse back in the late 70s/early 80s with DJ Frankie Knuckles speeding up disco 12-inches to keep the people dancing into the morning light.
In its purest form, its sound never really strayed too far from the core rhythms generated by the arsenal of synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines, even when elements of other genres like reggae, hip-hop, gospel, R&B, Latino, and ambient slipped into the mix as the music globetrotted from Chicago to Detroit to New York City to London to Ibiza over the course of its 30-odd year existence. Sure, the melodies and effects may get switched up, but it’s generally still the same mindless, pulsing repetition that isn’t exactly conducive to anything but shaking your tail feather on the wood floorboards of your local dance club. For instance, one rarely hears of someone sitting quietly at his or her desk trying to get creative as the throbbing basslines of Todd Terry boom in the background (unless I’m missing something).
However, when working within the context of a live band, the structure by which house music becomes a malleable format of creativity is as bottomless as the bass line of an 808. Such is the case of France’s fleet-footed prince of electro-house, Joakim Bouaziz, who continues to meld a myriad of wildly non-house styles into his kinetic chemistry on the follow-up to his 2007 effort, Monsters and Silly Love Songs. Backed by his willing and able bandmates The Disco (formerly known as the Ectoplasmic Band), the inventive DJ continues to venture into the realms of the rock section of his music library on Milky Ways. Only this time around, rather than merely fusing such elements as post-punk and new wave into the pulsing throb of his unique brand of club music, he’s orchestrated a sound that brings both the organic and the synthetic together as a fully cohesive whole.
Certainly, he hasn’t ditched his acid-house roots altogether, as the hypercampy glitter jam “Spiders” and “Love & Romance & A Special Person”, which sounds like the computer voice from Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier” crashing the discotechque, clearly indicate. However, such backtracking is overpowered by Joakim’s bold new leaps into the realm of instrumental-based composition. Milky Ways’ epic opening track, “Back to Wilderness”, is pure amplifier crunchiness, throwing together the opening dirge of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, the atmospheric heaviness of Sub Pop-era Earth, and the soundtrack to an old video game for the Commodore 64 to create something wholly unique in scope and nature. Elsewhere, “Glossy Papers” rides a electro-fied Pavement-style rhythm to which Joakim utilizes a vocoder in a way that is definitely more Neil Young’s Trans than Daft Punk. Fast forward towards the end of Milky Ways to discover the album’s brightest moments: the tripped-out “King Kong is Dead”, which sounds like Slint if they got a hold of Mandrill’s old Moog, and the album’s closing number “Little Girl”, a song that could be passed off as Suicide tinkering with elements of Pink Floyd’s Meddle.
What would be really cool is to think that Milky Ways’ final moments serves as a lead-in for an entire Joakim album of pure electronically minded psychedelia, because it sounds like this house-cat has finally found his true calling.