Never has dancing been so uninviting of an idea.
Every band has a defining moment. Michael Jackson had the music video for "Thriller". New Order had "Blue Monday" (and if you want to get real technical, that was electro-rock group Orgy’s defining moment as well). Eminem had "Lose Yourself" (though diehards could easily argue many others as well). It's these peaks and milestones that we use to define the career of a music artist, and we also use them to not only hold up any of said artist’s recent output against, but also any inferior knockoff band as well ("Keane may be good, but they’re no Coldplay!" would be one such headline, but that’s if anyone still cared about Coldplay knockoffs in general).
Icelandic techno-pop collective Gus Gus will (at least personally) always be defined by the music video for their excellent single "Ladyshave" back in 1999. It was sexy, coy, danceable and -- most importantly -- both the song and video exhibited a real sense of humor. In the late '90s electro-pop boom, this single -- though it received only limited club play -- managed to stand out amidst the rest of the strobe-light infatuated tracks that littered the floor to the degree where the electro movement of the '90s drowned in the dense haze of its own fog machine.
Gus Gus - Ladyshave
Yet since the peak of the electronica movement, not much has changed. The Chemical Brothers of the 21st century are still releasing records that sound remarkably like the Chemical Brothers of the 20th century, and every electro-pop guru that comes by to revitalize the genre for better (Annie) or worse (Oakenfold) are still left fighting for footnote space in the mythical Big Book of Rock History. Innovation has long been a tough field for dance music in general: if you move out of a 4/4 time measure, then you’re either arty (like Four Tet) or IDM. Rave music will exist as long as there remains a reverb effect, so genre critics can only point to explicit yet poignant works like Prodigy’s immortal "Smack My Bitch Up" on rare occasions.
Gus Gus’ latest album, Forever, is not such an occasion.
The Icelandic music/film/etc. collective has been consistent in both album and remix work since "Ladyshave", but rarely to critical hallelujahs (recent Icelandic music scene documentary Screaming Masterpiece managed to overlook them completely). Though this is their first new album since 2002, the group that once were promised to be "the new Sugarcubes" (but with a techno flair) have managed to devolve into a slop of techno minimalism, retaining none of the bite that they had previously exhibited. Forever sounds like a series of demos that Mark Bell would have made for his own electronic masterpiece, LFO’s Frequencies. The only problem is that Frequencies was released in 1991 -- and Gus Gus arrive 16 years too late. Could they simply be paying homage to the forgotten dance masterpiece? Though possible, songs bearing titles like "Demo 54" and the aptly ironic "You’ll Never Change" throw doubt onto the idea that this is a tribute to anything except work done with a rushed deadline.
From end to end, Forever sounds abysmally the same on a track-by-track basis. You almost begin to wonder if the album title is doubling over as the running time. Practically every track begins with a simple and unchanging drumbeat, followed by an equally repetitive keyboard trill, and -- if you’re lucky -- some vocals here and there. The group’s sense of dynamics seems to have died a painful death, as rarely do we ever break from the pattern established within the first 20 seconds of any given track. The keyboard riff from "Need in Me" sounds like it was ripped unapologetically from older, better techno classics. Though the cheekily-titled "If You Don’t Jump (You’re English)" opens with a vaguely-catchy guitar grind, that lone unique instrument gets squandered less than a minute in for repetitive vocals of "I want to be a freak," almost as if you were supposed to feel freaky at that point, when instead you just wind up feeling awkward. Perhaps the worst offender remains the near ten-minute closer "Mallflowers", which practically screams out "Mommy, look! I made my first rave song!" Never has dancing been so uninviting of an idea.
Yet there are a few moments of actual genuine fun to be found in this barely-there effort. Euro-disco diva Pall Oskar brings a genuine sexiness to the otherwise-unremarkable "Hold You", adding a genuinely human element to this largely machine-run affair. Yet she can’t hold a candle to the obvious choice of a lead single: "Moss", a song that sounds like Gus Gus of old, which commands our attentions (and hips) with a great chord progression at the chorus and just a genuine sense of fun. Though no "Ladyshave", the video itself remains sweet in a very simplistic way as well.
"Moss" is a genuine highlight off of a very mediocre dance LP. Forever ultimately sounds very unfinished, as if we’re listening to blueprints of what could be brighter, better songs. The only artistic reasoning that would justify the existence of this album remains the aforementioned theory that this is all just at tribute to LFO’s Frequencies. If odds prevail and that just happens to be the case, then it’s worth hunting down a copy of that original album, because it will be more fun (and likely cheaper) than anything you’ll hear off of this one.