In the grand scheme of electronic music, 2008 was Gregg Gillis’s year. Feed The Animals, his fourth album of mash-up glitch pop under the name Girl Talk, originally released under the pay-what-you-like format through Illegal Art, found a crack in the marketplace and rode it to almost every major publication’s year-end Best Of list (including a #24 placement at Rolling Stone and top 10 for Blender and Paste). Gillis recycles pop music, taking samples here and there and forcing them into a single track. On Lambs Anger, Quentin Dupieux (aka Mr. Oizo) recycles late-’80s/early-’90s pop, taking sounds from here and there and forcing them into a single track. Granted, he is incredibly good at it: the sounds are clean, well produced, and precisely mixed. But I think Dupieux would be good at just about anything he put his mind to, and no matter how much you polish this turd of an album, it will always be a turd. Pee-ew, Dupieux.
Something along the way altered Flat Eric’s approach. He’s simply not as flat as he used to be. In fact, he’s so three-dimensional on this third record that he’s threatening to undermine the worth of his early EPs — and, what’s more, the classic status of his flawless 1999 minimal Muppet Show techno debut, Analog Worms Attack. That album dropped at a time when popular electronic music was becoming intensely over the top, cluttered, and as epic as possible, and though its influence was not immediate, it is clearly evident now. The style he laid down a decade ago helped to shape the modern definition of breaks, techno, and instrumental hip-hop. Dupieux seemed to take this as an insult and took six years to follow it up with a mixed bag of annoying nostalgia, 2005’s absurd Moustache (Half a Scissor). Lambs Anger maintains that album’s progression into retro bastard electro — and, in light of Girl Talk’s undeserved success, it’s hard to fault him for that.
However, in continuing down the ironic cheeseball rabbit hole, the contradictions have become too extreme. This album is truly half crap, and I find myself spending most of the listening experience trying to figure out which half it is, rather than just enjoying the music. Of the few comparative highlights, “Erreur Jean” has some kick and grind, featuring outside assistance from Errorsmith. Three tracks in, “Z” probably has the most going for it, with a punchy house beat akin to Oizo’s genius fellow Frenchman and quirky techno producer Ark, but puffing itself up to be like the one from “Closer” by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails). The synths are still ’80s German horror film style, but they have a little more warp to them than the rest of the album, and getting progressively more demented as the track continues. You can almost hear his old self somewhere behind the purposefully and spectacularly plastic percussion tweaks.
Whatever gains the few listenable tracks make cannot outweigh the brutal audacity of “Cut Dick”. It starts out with a Speak & Spell count-in, quickly launching into the cheesiest saxophone and bass guitar sounds ever diced over a basic beat. The track doesn’t end up really going anywhere; at least not far enough away to keep the cringe from creeping up your spine. Following that lead is an ill-advised cover of “It Takes Two”, featuring Carmen Castro. Castro is not the problem so much in her track, and the music is technically flawless, but its brutal piano, brass, and string samples keep the cover gratingly corny throughout. The original song has been sampled a billion times, so I’m sure he meant it as some kind of gauntlet toss to other lazier, frighteningly more popular producers who are really just short sample DJs. If so, it’s a sharp jab, but you can’t fight cheese with cheese. Not to mention it sounds an awful lot like “Positif” samples the beat from Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” in its outro, among other sounds.
More and more, Analog Worms Attack seems like a fluke. It pains me to say that because it’s still one of my all time favorite electronic albums, but that’s the way it is. Even as Lambs Anger rides the wave of ’80s nostalgia to respectable income and momentarily elevated social status, long-time fans will scratch their heads and pine for the old days, and they are right to do so. Please come back, Flat Eric. We miss you, and we love you more than a million hipster blogs ever could.