It is amazing to think of the progress that has been made in just a few short years. It used to be that an “artist” album from a major dance music producer was a big event — even the phrase “artist album” carries connotations of grandeur, as if the CD in question was the result of a tortured, arduous gestation, filled to the brim with meaningful artistic expression. In the genre’s early days, it must be remembered, dance music was primarily a singles medium. Oftentimes producers simply didn’t have more than an A-side in them, as evidenced by a wide sampling of excruciatingly bad B-sides scattered across dance music history. But then dance music started to grow up. Producers began to compile their singles onto LPs for home listening. Some of them actually began acting like authentic pop musicians, producing whole albums from which they then culled the singles for release to dancefloors and radio play — imagine that!
And somewhere along the line dance music got at least partially swallowed by the regular music industry, and these things became less special. The artist album was no longer the sole province of that handful of artists who actually could be depended on to provide an interesting hour-and-change of music: Orbital, the Prodigy, Leftfield, Underworld. It became de rigeur for everyone with any kind of presence in the dance world to produce an album. And sure enough, just as the pop world is filled with musicians able to craft perfectly serviceable singles but congenitally unaware of how pitiful the rest of their albums are, the dance world became filled with production tyros unable to keep their toes out of the LP pool. Whether or not they actually have the ideas to fill up an 80-minute CD is a matter left for those of us who actually have to listen to the things.
Which brings us to the matter of Tomcraft’s Hyper Sexy Conscious, a perfectly competent album by any definition, but astoundingly barren of any original ideas or novel execution. It is not necessary that something be new if it is delivered with sufficient panache, but there isn’t a single track on the entire album that manages to rise above the level of tepid familiarity. From the Frampton-esque vocodored voice that opens up the album and repeats throughout, to the juxtaposition of hard breakbeats and rapping (on “Sureshot”), to the synthesized keyboards that sound like they were stripped directly off the mixing board Daft Punk used for Discovery (throughout the album, but particularly on “Quelle Heure Est-Il”), the album never even seems invested in its own wholesale appropriation. There are no surprises.
Often electronic music is criticized for being repetitive and unoriginal, but rarely has the label been so damning. I can see the songs laid out in eight-measure bars as the song plays, with new elements being introduced every other measure and the breakdown coming at exactly one-half way through the track. I could graph it for you if you wished — I used to fuck around with an old edition of Acid and I know exactly how these types of schematic dance compositions are constructed. You’ve even got breathy female vocals (“On Screen”) and and half-spoken sex-kitten vocals (“Electronic Toy”, which even carries the same chord progression as easily a dozen other tracks I could mention). Every sample of “random” studio dialogue or astronaut radio communication is scientifically measured against a hundred previous examples. They’ve even got a trip-hop number with acoustic flourishes (“First Attempt”) at roughly two-thirds of the way through the album, just in time to give the theoretical listener a break from the action-packed proceedings (and also to provide a bid for inclusion on future downtempo compilations.)
If I sound harsh, it is not without some regret: any producer of Tomcraft’s pedigree, with remixes for artists as diverse as Depeche Mode, the Pet Shop Boys and the Dandy Warhols, and even a #1 single under his belt (2003’s “Loneliness”, with Eniac) should be able to do better than this. If you’ve ever heard a dance music record before in your entire life, you’ve heard the gist of Hyper Sexy Conscious. I’m sure the DJ down at your local meat bar will be happy to get the dub plates, but anyone else is advised to steer clear.
Tomcraft – Sureshot