It took the mainstream United States quite a bit longer than other parts of the world to summon up mass enthusiasm for electronic dance music. While Americans largely invented electronic dance music, most significantly Detroit techno and Chicago house, those genres and their seemingly infinite derivatives never got much love outside of their underground constituencies throughout most of the 1990s in the U.S. At the same time, electronic dance music of various sorts was taking over the popular music markets of Western Europe. But all of that has changed in less than a decade, and electronic dance music has finally started asserting itself in the mainstream American pop market that was its birthright all along. There are good things and bad things about this development. As with any mass proliferation of genre styles, the good stuff does not necessarily always become the most popular stuff. Indeed, with the growing mass popularity of electronic music in the U.S., a fairly vast quantity of bland nonsense being produced is probably inevitable. I am sorry to say that Portland, OR, producer Anne’s new record Pulling Chain is a case in point.
Pulling Chain in certain respects reminds me of some of the synth-driven, gothy music that I can sometime get behind like Cold Cave or Xander Harris — but it’s just nowhere near as good as that stuff. These songs are dull, forgettable, and mostly interchangeable. There are moments when I am even reminded of Washed Out’s Within and Without but without any of the melodic hooks or soulfulness. None of these songs have any personality; you can listen to them a million times and still forget them five minutes later. Apparently the single is the mid-track hunk of unsweetened oatmeal “Blonde Men”. Who can say why they chose this song as a single over any of the others, because these tracks all pretty much taste the same. What we have here is electronic dance music that wants to be played at after-hours goth clubs at 3 a.m. It hopes to keep the kids dancing by referencing trance and house music, but it does so in an unimaginative and often irritating fashion.
The real off-putter here, however, are the vocals. These kinds of gothy, vaguely emo-ish vocals need to sound haunted, tormented, or soulful, and ideally all three. The vocals on Pulling Chain are, instead, whiny and grating. These peevish, adolescent wailings are placed against some of the most wearying trance and house music cliches that I have heard in some time, making me feel like I have wandered into a tent full of candy ravers, and unspeakable happy house in about 1998. At times Pulling Chain even evokes the foul specter of Blaqk Audio’s Bright Black Heaven, a damning comparison indeed. But while Blaqk Audio are so aggressively cheesy that they are almost entertaining in a strange way, Anne ends up just being dull.
It is inevitable that lots and lots and lots of very mediocre electronic dance music is going to get unleashed on the public. Anne’s Pulling Chain is nothing more and nothing less than another example of this. The real danger here is that someone will confuse the forgettable Portland producer Anne with the totally rad and highly enjoyable Norwegian singer and pop/dance ass-kicker Annie. Take my word for it, folks — the latter is much, much more worth your time.