Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner, and Anni Hogan are rightly named in Scanni‘s press material as “two of the UK’s foremost contemporary composers”. But Scanni, the first collaboration between these two fierce personalities of electronic music , isn’t a terribly contemporary album. If you are familiar with Anni Hogan through her collaborations with Itchy Ear or Martin Bowes or if you are familiar with Rimbaud through his experiments under the Scanner moniker, Scanni might strike you as rather plane. This doesn’t mean that the album is dull or that it can’t offer anything new to the adventurous listener. It’s just that in a musical genre known for flaunting its supposed lack of boundaries, Scanni leans closer to the safe side of the equation.
One thing that keeps the music so grounded in pop territory is the presence of vocals on all but one of Scanni‘s tracks. They pull all kinds of performances from Kate Smith, Jennifer John, Thomas Lang, ex-Swans vocalist Jarboe, and former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flür. Not every song ends up fitting the traditional pop form, but a majority of them do. So if you can just calibrate your expectations to align with something a little more synthpop-based, you ought to be in good shape for the first two songs. “A Life Well Lived” is positively alive with soft, bubbling keyboards and an easy strolling beat to match. If you can tolerate Kate Smith’s sharp breathing and throat croaks, you are rewarded with the superior “Future”. Here’s where hook and atmosphere form a perfect marriage where Jennifer John belts out that the future is “in our hands to hold”.
From there, variations to the formula come in fractions. “Carelessly” and “Cinecittà (Feel Everything)”, the two songs to feature Jarboe, run much quieter — likely designed that way to give Jarboe room to stretch her voice. Thomas Lang’s two contributions cover a little bit more ground with “Alone” as Scanni‘s toe-dip into trip-hop and “With You in My Life” allowing the balladeer the last word. And just when you think “Golden Light” is content to park its caboose in the lounge, in comes Wolfgang Flür’s melodramatic spoken-word performance to offset Smith’s nasal squeak. Hogan and Rimbaud only allow themselves one instrumental, “Once Upon”, which is really too bad since such a format is prime opportunity to throw tradition to the wind.
So if the collaboration that brought about Scanni is going to continue, here’s to hoping there’s more from where “Once Upon” originated. “[T]wo of the UK’s foremost contemporary composers” certainly deserve a generous amount of artistic freedom, that’s just about a given. But with a few small exceptions, Scanni sounds like Rimbaud and Hogan are reluctant to dive into the abyss. It’s a move that neither holds them back nor advances them, artistically speaking. Then again, they could just be getting started.