Kid 606's schizophrenic career now provides us with, of all things, an old school techno album.
Kid 606 has lead a rather schizophrenic career, alternately predictable and unpredictable, as he leaps genres at every opportunity in apparent response to conflicting desires to both buck and ride trends. His noisy arrival on the scene around the turn of the century was mostly through the destructive charm of Down With the Scene. That second album was a work that, with more anarchic punk energy than most actual punk bands of the time (this was the era of Blink182), wrecked everything it could (before it planned on slowing down), while flaunting its disregard for the rest of the burgeoning IDM scene with song titles like "Luke Vibert Can Kiss My Indie-Punk Whiteboy Ass". Though no hip-hop-style feuds ever ensued, Kid 606 (known, presumably, to his friends as Miguel Depedro) had made his mark and smoothed the way for future releases and for his new label, Tigerbeat 6, to grow into one of the best outlets for indie electronic music in the United States. Future 606 albums however, seemed to fall cleverly, if somewhat uninterestingly, into orbit around current trends, with a glitch album, a mash-up album, an (albeit especially decent) jungle/breakcore album. And this year we get, of all things, an old school techno album.
It seems doubtful that anyone predicted this. Despite some recent buzz gathered around the likes of Mathew Dear and Jimmy Edgar, techno doesn't seem to be enjoying any notable vogue at the moment. And Depedro's latest offering, Pretty Girls Make Raves, is pure techno, from the thuddingly repetitive kick drums, to the incessant bass pulse, to the raw synth stabs and acid bite of 303 lines. Unfortunately, Depedro seems to have expended all of his effort on the snappy title (referencing the punk band referencing the Smiths song referencing Kerouac), leaving the actual songs rough and unfocused. There's certainly something to be said for the occasional messy production (the Go! Team's Ian Parton seems poised to make a career of it), but with techno's reliance on slow builds, steady groove, and simple loop structures, the genre seems to benefit most from the sort of clean, precise production associated with the likes of Richie Hawtin. Depedro's production, however, rumbles blearily, as if from behind a layer of smudged, dirty glass, coming out muffled and muted. Of course, the elements of grit and grime here are likely intentional, perhaps as an attempt to keep the tracks raw and energetic. But where such techniques might benefit more chaotic material, as on 2003's Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You, here, carried along on endless repetition over five minutes, they fall flat.
The production works most effectively on the album's centerpiece, "Meet Me at the Bottom", where the interminable four-on-the-floor kick drums are born along on rolling waves of creaking, murky organ. These hunching organ clips manage, for once, to pull off the desirable sort of messiness, propelling the beats forward in a sort of manic carnival dancehall, complimenting the track's lurching breaks and drops so that they hit their mark all the better. Unfortunately, the track is also accompanied by one of a couple unintelligible, distorted vocal performances on the album, an inclusion that adds little to the track and tends to become irritating after some time. Other tracks also feature vocals, but more of the looped sample variety familiar from past 606 work. These are occasionally compelling, as in the pop mosaic of opener "Let It Rock", and occasionally tiresome, as in the endlessly reiterated cut-ups of "Comeuppance", which are not nearly virtuosic or interesting enough to bear the burden of virtually all variation in the piece.
Kid 606's seventh full-length, then, is refreshingly divergent from current trends in electronic music, but falters through sloppy production and lazy arrangement. For a similar though vastly preferable alternative, listeners need look no further than Depedro's own hugely underrated signee Knifehandchop, whose 2004 release How I Left You saw him edging further from his signature breakcore beats and towards crisp, though often characteristically syncopated, techno motifs. The entire album handles thick, oozing basslines, ricocheting synth blips, hammering percussion, and shifting samples in a manner that manages to be simultaneously elegant and abrasive, while maintaining a constant sense of humor. All the same elements appear, perhaps inspired in part by Knifehandchop's efforts, on Pretty Girls Make Raves, but in a sadly shoddier assemblage. But Depedro's catalogue has always been a bit spotty, alternating relatively boring fare with occasional strokes of brilliance (or at least relentless entertainment). This simply tends more towards the former than the latter.