Monday, May 12, 2014
The Stunning Debut album of the British Electronic Duo
The 90's were magical. You'd have been forgiven for giving up on the dance music long player. There was a time when a classic debut seemed to come out of nowhere each year and gave credence to the idea that electronic dance music could produce more than the thrill of the 12-inch. Chemical Brothers' Exit Planet Dust (1995), Leftfield's Leftism (1995), Daft Punk's Homework (1997), Basement Jaxx's Remedy (1999) ... each claimed a place among the decade's most cherished albums, and as each artist left a measure of unfulfilled promise, the next emerged to offer new hope.
Since Basement Jaxx's debut, however, the well was a little dry. There were some genuinely exciting happenings in dance music (2-step's brazen rumble comes to mind), and a handful of excellent albums (Avalanches' Since I Left You of 2000 and Felix da Housecat's Kittenz and Thee Glitz in 2001 topping the list), but no more landmark debuts blindsided us on the dancefloor.
Enter the British electronic DJ duo FC Kahuna consisting of Jon Nowell and Daniel Ormondroyd. If, 18 minutes into this album, you are not ready to feel these two London-via-Leeds hedonists were the most exciting thing in dance music, you need your feet examined. "Fear of Guitars" (voiced by Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys) is an exquisite 5-minute ambient wind-up punctured by the acidic disco pogo of "Glitterball"(featured in the 2003 video game Need for Speed: Underground) , this album's statement of dance floor intent. This is a monster tune that fulfills all the promises of dance music: it's funky, it's alien, and it's loud as fuck. And it gets blown right out of the water by what comes next.
"Machine Says Yes" has choon of the Year locked down, sizzling along on a six-foot-thick synth line, a lovely chord sequence, and a heavenly vocal from Icelandic Band Gus Gus' Hafdis Huld. But what really kills are the dynamics, the way the Kahunas suck the song through multiple dancefloor-detonating cycles without ever resorting to clichéd wind-ups and drumrolls. Anyone who thinks these dance types can't write proper songs needs to cock an ear.
Where to go from there? They can only hope to maintain. "Growler" and "Nothing Is Wrong" do just that, pushing their fusion of house and electro/techno out on the dancefloor, keeping the acid quotient high, and only occasionally letting things get too noisy. "Bleep Freak" is a brilliant, all-too-short aside, beefing up tongue-in-cheek retro with a thoroughly modern stop-start rhythm. My favorite "Hayling" (heard on the Layer Cake Soundtrack) slows things down for Huld's second guest spot, and its beautiful mechanized melodics more than compensate for messy, rockist drums.
Then comes 2000 single "Mindset to Cycle," the only thing the Kahunas ever did to suggest an album like this might be on the way. It lacks the melodic suckerpunch of the best songs here, but its sinister lurches and endlessly unraveling structure were always an indication of Dan and Jon's desire to capture the dynamics of the dancefloor in songs, rather than just looped-up tracks.
In the end, it's this understanding that makes Machine Says Yes so special. This is a sound inspired by sweaty basement dancefloors, dangerously late nights, noises and grooves that come out of nowhere to change your life. It's the sound of musicians finding their form and stepping up to take their turn, buzzing off the moment. Like all great buzzes, it's gone before you know it -- the retro-electro "Microcuts" feeds into comedown blues "North Pole Transmission," and it's over. But put the needle back to side one and the feeling starts to build again. A magical debut album,. and what more could you want? Jesse Fahnestock