[7 February 2011]
The French duo Bot’Ox, composed of Benjamin Boguet (a.k.a. Cosmo Vitelli) and Julien Briffaz (of Tekel), has been around for six years now. The primary focus of their singles, most of which are collected on their first album, Babylon By Car, is the destructive force of the modern automobile. It’s unclear why there’s an apostrophe in their name, but its referent, Botox, is a neurotoxin protein derived from a bacteria that grows on mishandled and improperly prepared meat. It also happens to have significant medical (and cosmetic) uses. Like Botox, it’s hard to argue that the automobile doesn’t have vastly positive effects on social relations, but it too is built on a toxic economy of environmental devastation, unsustainable energy use and, as the 2008 car crisis proved, little foresight or fiscal responsibility. Perhaps that’s what Bot’Ox mean when their press release announces that the “reign of the car is coming to an end.” Yet, despite a definitely seedy side to the electro-dirges on Babylon By Car, this doesn’t seem to be any kind of “big statement” album. The music itself is competent enough, if a little unfocused (as singles collections are wont to be), but it lacks the essentialism that would motivate repeated listens and studies years down the road.
The album’s variety reminds me of several things: the loose formatting of the mid-‘90s electronica explosion, Death In Vegas’s The Contino Sessions and countless Astralwerks crossover bands. Few songs are completely ineffectual, but a couple peter out before making an impression. “Crushed Cadillac” is the opposite. Its opening has the spacious temerity of Gary Numan’s “Films” and builds quite an anxious, shaky atmosphere of running exhaust and ringing alarms, but it takes too long to follow through. Most disappointing is “Tout Passe, Tout Lasse, Tout Casse”, a grimy slow-rider whose motion stalls with the icily awkward spoken word of guest punk icon Judy Nylon. Highlights are “Blue Steel”, a cut reminiscent of Cosmo Vitelli’s earliest work that features a languid vocal by Domingo’s Anna Jean; the minimal-wave motorik of “Overdrive”; and the elliptical synths of the moody, ‘80s sci-fi electro jams “Rue D’Arsenal” and “Car Jacked”.