As Digitalism continues to bring back the ghosts of old songs, Mirage demonstrates the duo’s willingness to welcome new ghosts, promising them a more audacious future.
Former Red Hot Chili Pepper guitarist and Acid House beat maker John Frusciante once said of electronic music, "Rock music is electronic music, dependently entirely on electronic circuitry and amplification." The disgruntled retorts of electronic music and EDM by rock musicians, however, stem from the perceived push-button simplicity in composition, a deceptive ease of its creation. Recently, even the esteemed Iggy Pop ranted furiously against the intimated soullessness of the genre from a limousine window. For many rock and roll purists, it is the same clamoring cry heard in the '70s of "Disco sucks!" and this salt-of-the-earth fear that humans will be one day replaced by machines. Since EDM's surge and electronic music's Old Testament-sized genealogy, electronic music, like rock music, continues to evolve in wondrous ways. Yet, every punctuated equilibrium comes with its share of mutative successes and problems.
With shameless reverence, Hamburg duo Digitalism continues to worship in the Temple of Daft Funk. 2007's Idealism featured Jens "Jence" Moelle and Ismail "Isi" Tufecki's vision of the future electro house, taking it out of dance clubs and into stadiums so that the masses could dance together as one. Europe and Canada embraced the record, as the feverish demand for all things electro house continued to create a groundswell, including the surging success of French duo Justice and Steve Aoki's Billboard Award for "Best Mix Album of the Year" in the same year. The time felt perfect for Digitalism to take its Kitsune brand to the masses. Yet, critics in the U.S. dismissed the album for being too derivative of their electro house heroes, despite Digitalism's warm embrace from American audiences and commercial success in the U.S.
Fast-forward almost ten years: one album, numerous video game soundtrack appearances, one BMW commercial, one Pontiac commercial, the appearance of "Pogo" on the cult favorite TV show Misfits, and countless festival appearances later, Digitalism continues to bring electro house for the masses with Mirage. Effortless virtuosity, the duo combines shades of light and dark on Mirage, using synth swells and bass oscillations to create wild mood swings for the dance floor. Avoiding the clichéd themes that doomed 2011's I Love You Dude, Digitalism replaces them with sub-bass ones and displeasing noises in pleasing ways.
Enter into evidence exhibit one: "Destination Breakdown", which begins with the standard four-on-the-floor electro house rhythm before transforming into an anthem with syrupy vocals and the chant-along line of "Breakdown-breakdown, break-breakdown". Once the song drives toward its dramatic conclusion, something strange occurs: the tempo slows to a near crawl, the synth lines appear to borrow from Ennio Morricone's cinematic arrangements, and the song ends entirely unresolved.
Enter into evidence exhibit two: "Mirage, Pt. 1", which explores Eno-esque territories that are equally reminiscent of M83's emotional crescendos found on Before the Dawn Heals Us. More minimalism than house by any other name, "Mirage, Pt. 1" fails to follow predictable forms due to the mere fact that the song is completely formless. Certainly, opponents of this theory may conclude that "Mirage, Pt. 2" sees the Hamburg's finest fall back into their electro house tropes and synth-driven banalities. Yet, the problem with that argument can be seen near the song's conclusion, as the traditional rhythmic build up to standard fair electro house tracks, where an explosion of rhythm, lights, pyrotechnics, and fist pumps (which would normally occur) never happen. Instead, a downtempo rhythm with an orchestral array of synths and noise ensues without compromising any part of their original aesthetic.
Maybe M83's Anthony Gonzalez needs to be addressed further. Moelle's vocals sound confident in spite of their lack of range, and, subdued like Gonzalez's vocal delivery, he possesses a genuine joie de vivre in his spirited projection on "Indigo Skies". Again, the tempo plods at the speed of Vicodin instead of pulsing like someone with too much MDMA in their system. Block chords and the classic loud-quiet-loud dynamic drive the song through the ether of nostalgia. The electro house power ballad fades away at the end, leaving yet another track devoid of a resolution.
So little is ever made of electro house's indebtedness to hip-hop; however, since Kanye West's 808's and Heartbreak, the same could be said of hip-hop's indebtedness to Daft Punk and electro house's sonic aesthetics. As evident on "The Ism", Digitalism blend the two together as if they had always existed together, while "No Cash" reminds Digitalism's faithful that they haven't forgot about the duo's homemade shrine to Daft Punk. And the album's closer, "Blink", makes certain that the prayer candles stay lit throughout the night. As Digitalism continues to bring back the ghosts of old songs, Mirage demonstrates the duo's willingness to welcome new ghosts, promising them a more audacious future.