This always happens. Laptop Guy makes Laptop Music; Laptop Guy works some good tones into some (often justifiably) well-received singles; Laptop Guy releases engaging, textural debut album with sonics blending toward something resembling forward motion; Laptop Guy can now have a successful life traveling the world and DJ-ing for masses of swelled pupils. Somebody else can worry about objective quality, I suppose; hence, let’s all raise our glasses to the valiant music writers everywhere who are left holding the bag on this stuff, parsing through the forceful thumps of albums like III and listening for anything that emerges from the mildly anguished blur. Make no mistake: that ‘mildly anguished blur’ is what a Kompakt album sounds like by the third go-round. At least they humour us with echo. Although getting more 4/4 digital echo in 2011 is like how a dog must feel when you lay out the 139th bowl of kibble.
Now, Chromophobia, Gui Boratto’s 2008 debut, had an oft-heard French house/German microhouse mix, but it really did sound vivid, sequential, and – at its best and most melodious, tracks like “Scene 1”, “Acróstico”, and particularly the token vocal, “Beautiful Life” – even progressive. Though personally I found his sophomore Take My Breath Away a dull shrug of a record, its industrialist-pop base won some people’s admiration. The point is that when he’s on his game, Boratto can let timbre subsume rhythm without sounding languorous. On III, he sounds languorous.
The album’s not without its sonic kick, of course. Kompakt records almost always sound terrific, even at their flattest. The dissonant, scattered hums of opener “Galuchat” crawl their way into a buzz is a mild thrill; ditto the tones of “Soledad”, blurring and re-focusing to the sad melodic disruptions around them. There’s a menacing guitar thrust to “Striker”, and the simple rapid-fire staccato of “Flying Practice” is won over by the grand carry of the sound itself. But these are the closest that III gets to any transferable drama, or tension-and-release; the rest of the album – even “The Drill”, which Kompakt for some reason chose for inclusion on this August’s Total 12 comp – always hints at getting busy with the thumping flashes of timbre, but even when it does, we always seem to end up back at Trent Reznor’s Elevator Music World. Whatever culminations take place seem stressed, not natural and much less ‘earned.’
There are tinges of vocals in a couple of tracks, but “This Is Not the End” is the only one that delivers them full-on. It’s sung by Luciana Villanova, who also sang “Beautiful Life”, and her voice adds some well-needed breeze, to be sure. Problem is, it is the end by this point, on top of which her voice itself is tampered-with to a weird degree; it sounds plugged and blurry in places, and Villanova now seems submissive to the swells of the beat – which doesn’t do much for the melodic grace that she was so good with before. And speaking of melody, isn’t it still a little soon to be re-doing the “All My Friends” tune? Just sayin’.
Talented? Of course Boratto is, and of course they (Kompakt) are. But young Laptop Guy never has to make another album as good as that first one – there’s simply no need for one, no demand in the scheme of his 9 to 5-ing (P.M.-A.M.). The aesthetic is so fitted to a scene with no indication of slowing down that simply keeping up is enough. In a dance club with good acoustics and the right number of blue strobes – or as ominous muzak for groggy subway riders – III will surely satisfy; there’s a darkened, slightly cavernous narcotic sweep to it. For the rest of us? Well, I guess there’s always that echo.