Friday, December 02, 2005


OK Cowboy/
The Understanding

When Stanley Kubrick made 2001; A Space Odyssey a few decades ago, he probably picked the arbitrary year of 2001 because is sounded so futuristic and ominous in comparison to his 1968. After the progress witnessed thus far, Kubrick had great expectations for the remainder of the century. And despite his preposterous vision (in retrospect), you have to admire his boldness. This was what he thought the future would look like and in 1968, he was admired for it. Now nearly forty years later, it's still acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made.

And while the following suggestions may not be the best records ever made, they're still quite strong. My first entry for the top ten albums of the year is actually split between two sublime electronic rekkids that perhaps wrongfully but charmingly predict the sounds of the future. The first, The Understanding by the Dutch electronic duo Royksopp is a sleek vision of a time-yet-to-come, a metrosexual soundtrack dressed in Prada synthesizers and European cut beats. The Understanding is a progressive album despite it's inevitable datedness; while it now sounds like dance music brought back by a time machine, it's still easy to imagine a day when it will sound outdated. Nevertheless, the songs are quite mature for dance music: "Dead to the World" is a spiraling ambient dream, while "Only This Moment" is as sophisticated as cheesy club music gets (no, there is no contradiction there). The strongest track on the album is "What Else Is There?" is a haunting, atmospheric stunner featuring the Bjorkish vocals of The Knife's Karin Deijer (see the ghostly video here) and also contender for one of my favorite singles of the year.

The second half of entry #10 belongs to Vitalic's OK Cowboy, a sleek and playful masterpiece produced solely by French DJ and producer Pascal Arbez. OK Cowboy is the cheeky and sensual show-off to Royksopp's restraint. Essentially, Vitalic's second full-length is French in all the right places. Just about every song winks at you while it simultaneously and flirtatiously demands your presence on the crowded dance floor.

Ultimately, Arbez's vision of the future feels more apocalyptic, both dangerous and demented like a seedy otherworldly nightclub frequented by threatening aliens. The first single "My Friend Dario" is a mutated blend of Berlinesque electro and Scandinavian metal with equal-measured sarcasm weighing heavily on both sides (watch this highly entertaining video here). But lest you think Vitalic is all about the shtick, he includes a song like "The Plan" an ambient Technicolor track that wouldn't sound out of place in a planetarium, or for that matter, on Royksopp's The Understanding.

But whether Royksopp's and Vitalic's respective albums will sound awkward in forty years, just as Kubrick's deadpan vision of 2001 now looks bleakly inaccurate, is beside the point. After all, how could you worry about a potential irrelevance when you sound so damn sexy in the present?


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