Vitalic – Flashmob

Vitalic were always pretty noisy. Four years earlier, OK Cowboy had introduced us to a beautifully screechy form of French electronica that really sounded completely unlike anything that had come out before. A decade ago this week, we were celebrating their return, with another round or bristling, squawking chiptune-meets-electro-meets-house.

It opens with See the Sea (Red), which is, as Vitalic fans would have been expecting by now, a catchy, pounding instrumental. It’s a great opener – perhaps not entirely memorable between listens, but one that really throws you back into the middle of it.

Poison Lips was the second single, and adds a vocal, although it’s largely unintelligible. Whereas the preceding track was a catchy synth-based track, this one pounds forward with a huge bass line and understated beats.

This is a long album, and so a bit of filler is probably inevitable. For it to come in the form of the title track is perhaps unexpected, but Flashmob really is something of a disappointment. Overly repetitive, and entirely lacking in any meaningful form of melody, the best you can really say for it is that it would probably sound good in a darkened club with a heavy musk of chemicals in the air.

But we’ve clearly entered the harder, darker section of the album now, as One Above One churns along. In addition to the characteristic howls and screeches, for the first time there’s an intelligible vocal here to enjoy, but unfortunately it gets repeated so many times that it’s hard to really see this as a vocal track.

On it goes. Still is a warped, gloomy electro instrumental, which gradually builds to include softer sounds such as huge pads. Terminateur Benelux, from the lead Disco Terminateur EP is a harsh, somewhat unpleasant, noise piece.

Second Lives was the third and final single, and is much better – a driving, catchy piece with a huge synth lead line. Allan Dellon, which is commonly misspelt online (it appears to refer to Brazillian footballer Allan Dellon rather than French actor Alain Delon), is a sweet instrumental piece with an uneasy but pleasant melody. Then comes another take on the opening track, this time as See the Sea (Blue). This version is a little gentler and a lot more discordant, driven by slightly off-key chimes and a slightly bouncier rhythm than the earlier version.

Then comes the curiously titled Chicken Lady, a rhythmic, beatsy piece with processed, chanted vocals. It’s oddly brilliant, a striking parallel for the album as a whole, and honestly Vitalic‘s work in general. Still no idea what the lyrics are supposed to mean, but never mind.

It seems only right that the album should hit one of its darkest points next, as Your Disco Song turns up with its huge synth lines. It’s not disco, it isn’t really a song, and it certainly isn’t mine, but it’s pretty good, with a huge LFO bass line. Then Station Mir 2099 is traditional Vitalic – quirky, warped synth parts that don’t quite go together but still result in an outcome that’s somehow glorious. After that, there’s just the miniature Chez Septime, and the album is over.

Flashmob may not, ultimately, be everybody’s tasse de thé, but it’s not a bad album either, and definitely not a bad place to get to know Vitalic.

This album is still available, although the physical cost seems a little inflated at the moment – try here for starters.

Chart for stowaways – 14 September 2019

Some interesting oldies reappearing this month…

  1. Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  2. Kylie Minogue – Step Back In Time – The Definitive
  3. Erasure – Wild!
  4. Lightning Seeds – Jollification
  5. The Beloved – Single File
  6. Moby – Last Night
  7. Brian Eno – Apollo – Atmospheres And Soundtracks
  8. Camouflage – Relocated
  9. Client – City
  10. Camouflage – Sensor

Way Out West – We Love Machine

There’s something about the energy of Way Out West‘s music that always makes them particularly compelling. We Love Machine may be exactly ten years old today, and it may not have performed particularly well on the commercial stage a decade ago, but it’s still a driven, and memorable album.

It opens with title track We Love Machine, an electronic dance piece with occasional broad guitar strokes and atmospheric electro sounds. The strumming and tribal drum interludes are spaced perfectly apart among synth swirls and feedback-laden squelches. It may seem a little aimless, but it’s also beautiful in its way.

In spite of that, it doesn’t really prepare you for the second track, One Bright Night. There’s a sparkling, starry background, with melodic chimes playing in the foreground, before it grows into a hint of a tantalisingly beautiful song. Choral echoes gradually build towards something quite exceptional. Bluntly, I’m not sure it ever quite fulfills its promise, but it’s still an extremely good, sweet and gentle piece.

This is not, in a way, a style of dance music that you really hear much now – and it probably wasn’t around much in 2009 either, which may explain why this album didn’t perform too well. Only Love was actually the lead single, but despite a few disco elements now and then, it has relatively little to offer. Bizarrely, this is not a particularly commercial album, in spite of having all the right sounds and beats – but it is a delicate honing of Way Out West‘s sound, that’s more polished than most of the albums they released in the 1990s.

So the punchy, somewhat crunchy sound of Bodymotion does help, and while it isn’t perhaps as soft and gentle to listen to, at least as the first two tracks, it is a fun, bouncy, electronic track, for the most part. The vocals are a little lacklustre though, to be fair – it sounds like a less good version of Moby‘s Bodyrock. The panpipe breakdown is fun, if nothing else.

Pleasure Control is a pleasant, beatsy instrumental, which, while it doesn’t have a lot to offer by itself, makes for a nice inbetween moment, steering the album back onto course. It would probably sound amazing on a small-press acetate 12″, played in a club, and sounds good here too, but somehow doesn’t quite seem to meet its full potential.

That’s a bit of a theme here, actually. Future Perfect was another single, and again feels like a case where maybe the single would have worked better than the album. Its deep, hypnotic beats are great, but do seem to be screaming out to be heard in a particular environment, where sitting down, listening to the music in its raw state, and trying to write a review, turns out not to be particularly easy. It’s not at all that this is a bad album – just that it maybe requires a certain state of mind before the listener turns it on, which isn’t necessarily entirely fair on the reviewer.

There are more accessible moments, of course – Survival is more of a dance-pop crossover track, with huge organ pads. It’s good enough to make it worthwhile to buy this album, although somehow I’m finding that it seems to mean a lot less to me now than it did when I first heard it.

Even the longer instrumentals aren’t too dull – Ultra Violet is a deeper house track but has some punchy and atmospheric synth work, and rippling bass parts that lift it up from just being another house track. Tales of the Rabid Monks is catchy, if somewhat forgettable.

But every so often, there is a track that makes you prick up your ears. Final single Surrender is one of these – the understated vocal is good, but nothing special – it’s really just an accompaniment to the huge house beats, but the phased lead synth lines that drift in and out are brilliant. If slightly chilled out, trippy house music is your thing, this is a great example.

Of course, not everything can stand out like this. The Doors Are Where the Windows Should Be is an entirely competent instrumental, and Tierra Del Fuego is a sweet, dreamy piece, also free of vocals, but honestly it’s difficult to keep focus at this end of the album. It’s good, and it definitely has its moments, but some of them seem best kept in 2009 now.

You can still find We Love Machine at all regular retailers.

Chart for stowaways – 17 August 2019

Here’s the singles chart for August:

  1. Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys – Musik (Original Cast Recording) – EP
  2. Hot Chip – Hungry Child
  3. The Beloved – For Your Love
  4. The Beloved – Deliver Me
  5. Tiësto/Jonas Blue/Rita Ora – Ritual
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  7. David Bowie – DJ
  8. Hot Chip – Melody of Love
  9. The Future Sound of London – Yage
  10. The Beloved – Ease the Pressure