When you start listening to Vitalic‘s debut album OK Cowboy, it really does seem to come out of nowhere – it starts with the blisteringly vigorous and entirely brilliant Polkamatic, and never seems to slow down until it ends, thirteen tracks later.
If you cast your mind back, Vitalic did appear out of nowhere himself, exactly a decade ago, when OK Cowboy was released. In fact, I knew so little about him that it wasn’t until writing this article that I realised there was only one person behind the name – Dijon-based Pascal Arbez-Nicolas. After a few years of minor one-off releases, this album appeared to very little fanfare, and gradually spread by word of mouth.
Poney (Part 1) is the second track, and perhaps it’s a cliché, but it sounds completely unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, with its enormous synth swells and electronic beats. It had originally been the first Vitalic single, back in 2001, alongside a few of the other tracks on the album, and moves things forward here perfectly.
Lead single My Friend Dario is the one thing about this album that might have caught your attention at the time, as it did get some airplay, but it’s actually one of the weaker pieces on here. As is so often the case, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it – it just isn’t quite as good as most of its neighbours.
The brilliantly named Wooo is one such example, and the swing beat should make you want to jump around pretty quickly too. As with many of the tracks here, there’s a beautiful simplicity, and while there isn’t a huge amount in the way of melody, and the vocals are entirely lacking, the chords a couple of minutes in will definitely grab you.
La Rock 01 is another piece taken from the early Poney EP, and it won’t let you go either, as the huge synth backing swells and subsides dramatically, but it’s The Past that turns out to be the most memorable track on the whole of OK Cowboy. Apart from being one of the few with vocals (admittedly obscured under layers of electronic wizardry), its chords come together perfectly, particularly towards the end in the middle eight. On top of all of that, the arrival of the 6/8 rhythm half way through helps on every conceivable level, and you won’t fail to be moved by the power of The Past.
No Fun crops up right in the middle of the album, and regardless of whether your idea of fun agrees with Vitalic‘s, it’s still very catchy, and also, you might finally realise at this point, it’s actually rather noisy too.
Poney (Part 2) appears to have very little in common with the earlier first part, but it’s good too, as is the violently moving Repair Machines. It’s not really until Newman that the quality lapses at all, and even that might just be because it isn’t quite as catchy as everything else – it’s still perfectly good in many ways.
Things start to wind down a little towards the end – the brilliant Trahison is slower, and less noisy, although every bit as eccentric as some of its predecessors, and then U and I, which is a lot more repetitive, but still entirely fitting. It’s only the final track Valetta Fanfares which disappoints a little, and only then because it seems a somewhat anticlimactic ending after the ceaseless brilliance we experienced earlier.
It was only after writing this that I discovered there’s also a bonus hidden track, right at the beginning of the CD, entitled One Million Dollar Studio, which is (a) really good, and (b) completely unlike anything else on the album, so I can’t help but feel a little cheated by only discovering this ten years on. But anyway, you’ve probably got the point by now – OK Cowboy is a very fine debut album, and comes extremely highly recommended.
You can still find OK Cowboy all over the place, and if you can’t track down the double disc version then go for the standard one anyway, as it’s great.