OK Cowboy was such a great and odd album. Here’s La Rock 01, from zose crazy French:
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.
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.
Let’s count down this week’s top ten albums:
- Marsheaux – A Broken Frame
- Vitalic – OK Cowboy
- Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
- Erasure – Wild!
- Erasure – The Violet Flame
- Recoil – Liquid
- Enigma – A Posteriori
- Deep Forest – Music Detected
- Saint Etienne – Tales from Turnpike House
- Andy Pickford – Terraformer
The invasion of the oldies continues! Dirty Vegas spend their second week at number one on the singles with their cover of Duran Duran‘s Save a Prayer.
If you haven’t come across Vitalic before but like your electronica to be dark and aggressive, or think that this whole “darkwave” thing is pretty exciting, you’re in for a treat. For the last decade, Vitalic have been releasing deep and grimey melodic electronic dance music, and are well worth a listen or three…
My Friend Dario from the debut album OK Cowboy – you won’t have heard anything quite like that before. They never really bothered with the charts particularly, but their brand of noisy but melodic electronica is something quite unique.
Where to start
Keep it simples and start at the beginning with OK Cowboy (2005).
What to buy
Work through their back catalogue in order – V Live (2007), Flashmob (2009), and finally Rave Age (2012). You might experience the odd Poney en route (see what I did there?) but there’s also more than enough good quality material to keep you occupied.
Don’t bother with
Vitalic‘s better moments are mainly clustered around the start of their career, so if you start to get bored as you work forward then you could probably call a halt to proceedings.
The French double CD version of OK Cowboy features some fun extras, including a live cover version of Warm Leatherette and the new track Candy.
Five highlights coming up in the next month or two…
Remember them? Off of the 1980s? They don’t do synths and all that any more, which probably means they’re not as good as they used to be. With limited dates coming up in Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, and London.
Having supported Pet Shop Boys on some of their recent dates, the ambient / chill-out master is back on the road supporting Clark across the USA and Canada this month, followed by some odd dates in Australia and the UK in subsequent months.
The crazy French dance troupe are currently mid-tour, hitting up Switzerland and France in coming weeks.
Fresh out of the cold north and touring over the next few weeks in Ireland and the UK, followed by Luxembourg, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
Nearly a quarter of a century on, Happy Mondays are back with a mini-tour of the UK going on.
Awards season is upon us! To celebrate, here are the nominations for our own ceremony, the Stowaway Awards. You already know the results of the Best Track thanks to our countdown the other week, so we’ll just cover the exciting awards.
Last year’s winner was Credo by The Human League. The nominees:
- Air – Le Voyage dans la Lune
- Apollo 440 – The Future’s What it Used to Be
- Delerium – Music Box Opera
- Hot Chip – In Our Heads
- Metroland – Mind the Gap
- Pet Shop Boys – Elysium
- The Presets – Pacifica
- Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne
- Sébastien Tellier – My God is Blue
- Soulsavers – The Light the Dead See
Last year’s winner was Personal Jesus (The Stargate Mix) by Depeche Mode. The nominees:
- Gossip – Move in the Right Direction (CSS Remix)
- Jean Michel Jarre – La Cage (Vitalic Rmx)
- Ladyhawke – Blue Eyes (Ron Flieger Remix)
- Tycho – Dive (Keep Shelly in Athens Remix)
- Van She – Jamaica (Mad Professor Dub)
Best Live Act
Last year’s winners were Sparks. The nominees:
- Keep Shelly in Athens
Last year’s winner was Kavinsky. The nominees:
- The Good Natured
Last year’s winners were The Human League. The nominees:
- Apollo 440
- Hot Chip
- I Monster
- Pet Shop Boys
- The Presets
- Saint Etienne
- Sébastien Tellier
- Shit Robot
The full and exciting ceremony will take place in mid-February. Next week, we’ll start looking in detail at what’s been going on at the Brit Awards.