Kap Bambino - Blacklist

Martin Goodhead 02/06/2009

Rating: 4/5

We know dance doesn't really do stories, preferring the limbic rush of a frozen perpetual moment of groove, but what about the story of dance? One version of goes like this. Over the last 20 years 'pure' dance music has traditionally taken two forms; club music like beamy-eyed grinning casualties, with aftermath soundtracked to hard beat comedowns and distorted new-age ambient and ; Aphex Twin style 'intelligent' dance music. The first speaks to the guts-simian, the other like math-generated shapes, beautiful but obtuse and chilly. Neither has been terribly emotional in the sense that one's a variant of adrenalin glands, and the other's like a clinical exercise. It's been in rock and club crossovers that the greatest alchemies, if not necessarily modern innovations, have happened. From before that 20 year mark, Kraut-electronica came by New Order and Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk's popularity helped appropriation into the canon, goth-disco experiments in Suicide foreshadowing NIN's breakouts, and then—in the modern era, those jokester hedonists of the pack The Prodigy scuttling between techno, hard-rock and Happy HxCx.

For a while, since Crystal Castles hit and before-after them Liam Howlett's crew's arrival/return, glitchy Atari punk-dance, made with drum and bass' confrontations at the margins allied with hardcore dance's smiley-bird tweep revisitation of mdma fuelled drives has been the thing on the scene. Luminescent and now- mid 2009- either at its apogee or-decline. How far can such a genre exist in date and space beyond novelty, party-drunk yearnings for simpler pleasures in time's cuckoo land- the soothing repetition of arcade beeps, or the counter-melody of Crystal Castles glass-crumbling voice mutated paranoia.

Heralded for their notorious exhibitionism-- with that unwieldy name and the infamous live shows with their skin-tight glitter-eyed lead chanteuse Caroline Martial of the gabba spuzzy wailing--- and two (fairly low-key) album releases Frenchies Kap Bambino have been progenitors of the scene but, for all their glitz unlikely heroes to push this forward artistically.

Now they've released third album, Blacklist on the back of 'Red-Sign' and-something slightly extraordinary has happened-like holograms given the breathing texture of flower petals; plastic apples gushing juices; digital bit-parts cunningly jammed together recreating a none-more-organic acoustic singer or piano nocturne.

On the outside, the first few moments, the vibe seems heartless- that stylish affect-less fashion-core quirkiness of bouncing keyboards and rave sirens. At first they come on all 'pendulum'-like swinging legs, capped with berets in clubs arch and grimy as the timbre of Serge Gainsbourg's vocals. In Crystal-meth castles, rainbow trances give way to thrashing and pounding; a fried and paranoid attitude to feedback soft-beats and sound-sculpting whilst Martial wails and tears with a coo and a low-throat-rip larynx accordion. Which is where it starts to complicate; drill-and bass on the back of old-school Vangelis-style keyboards suddenly turns into a pop melody with a sting. And then this nothing turned itself right inside out and it's like strange butterflies.

Beneath the surface, dance's roots 30 years ago come out- like that hall of mirrors which is 'modern dances' other narrative—new wave bands touring the European underground clubs and cross-fertilizing that subculture of style, their growth into stadium albusm and the sounds retreat back into the spatially and musically intimate, into the sharper end of electro-clash, being not just scenesters but Ladytron, 2 Many Dj's, disco-punk that quickens the heart and the neurons even as the floor becomes a series of silhouettes. The only comparable Crystal Castles song in this realm is 'Courtship Dancing', with that soul and Sunday-morning film music feeling.

'Dead Lazers', beyond its rhubarb and custard synths- goes still further, embracing the melting pot nature of these generational couplings, is reminiscent of classic 'selector' and 'dancehall' translated through hyper Atari teenage music, with its formalism synchs skeleton early eighties OMD meets Le Tigre punk . Though in the key of Prodigy's 'Charly' and its happy hardcore imitators, beneath the synthetics are organic frames- songs cloaked in poly's but beating with a heart of nostalgia and experience. Over flow breakneck punk postures- in wreckages re-pixellated into roses rather than just dance-shapes, into things of aesthetics until the wire hum becomes human breath. --chart hits are locked inside pale gamine disco-beaten eccentric bodies. 'Rezero Zero' is a classic example; classic piping organs like the Stranglers and low throbbing Atari bass mixed in with animal 'moos' in a sweet strange dance and short feedback bursts tuned like French horns or trumpets. Underneath those polka-rave garbs bucolic models in the shade of afternoon eternities somehow mixed with the coolness and insouciance.

Which may be a peculiarly Gallic approach The French of modern times have been brought up with that cult of imperious ennui; a fatalistic philosophical hedonism, on the verge of being crushed, as in Catherine Breillets 'A Ma Soeur', and those other French suburban disenchantment pieces of forensics emotion-porn where everyone behaves as if compelled to be self-lacerating and deny love, and on its flipside those accounts of French Youth of dream-pop of M83 and Air and the legacy of Paris youth-revolution. Such glacial tones mixed with 'house' and rave's bodyful euphoria rush, with the mysterious underneath's of emotion and the glam glue-fuelled sarcasm alchemise together; incomprehensible screeched and whispered lyrics still suddenly tell stories rather than the pure neutral-universalities of dances lingua franca. This hybrid scuttles between calculation and the helpless stream of all those conflicting tapestries of sounds and visions and contradictory feelings in the condition of being young and snarkly (and French but also British, Czech, Brazilian, Indian). See 'Bluescreen' with its unusually emotive rather than feisty and arch vocal screams, its compositional clean immediacy with those spine-stirring synth-washes, single notes like towering classical melodies.

It's still very punk all through- in aesthetic and sentiment. That first single comes on like Never Mind the Bollocks compressed into chain mail zodiac sign dresses and dollied up to the stars in a Luc Bresson film's space catwalk. Just like the original peacock-clash fashion of punk's eccentric-snooty sartorialism. Despite dance's traditional propensity for the single before LP, 'Red Sign' actually works better within the album than as a shrieky and endearing and ideologically punk wacked-out but not all That distinctive presence on play-lists and '120 Minutes' line-ups. Then the album clocks at 32 minutes over 12 tracks- with the razor-hewn efficiency with turmoil throbbing under its surface beneath the spite and dazzle kiss-offs—32 minutes with the pulsating clatter of techno-hardcore, but hardcore in the 'blag-flag, minutemen, and early fugazi' sense, evolving before our eyes into a new version of emocore's peculiar marriage of 'martial' chaos and subtlety, back when it just didn't mean scowly syncopated pop music. But with refresher-fuelled swizz-powder sugar sour rushes before the crashes.

On almost each track from the initial barrage of noise there's a switch-up into clarity; a teeming darkwave pop blippy passage or grass-stained lounge dressed type emerging under light of chandeliers of a party, a grin but also the irradiance of feeling in her eyes. Electro static-churn beats the vibration of dancefloors or the wave-signals in your head writ into pure noise to drown out the feelings, or maybe it's the grasshoppers out in the grove beyond the curb in the suburban maze as you listen to their next word and count your breathing like long retrieved secrets.

Soon when in the bleepy korg and sony acid bit universe, we arrive at dank arcades filled with the single light of 'Dracula's Castle' missions. 'Batcaves' , sinister minor-chord switch and classic electronics indicate that mix of nostalgia-- dreams of childhood's saturated in bleeps and chirps from retro-compilations--- and the evol. sound of the underground. It does have elements of that shoegaze sound- coupled with backwards keyboard drones like ghosts of memory, and stately glacial distemporal freezes of dancehalls with a bright-eyed violence. Just like the recessions of 1980 it's the perfect combination of smarts, bodyrocks and doleful fantasias. Hollow yet warm, like the ghost of your wasted childhood. End song 'Acid Eyes' has an insistent 45 note keyboard riff, spurting into the feature with a stomach churn, head awash with the fading swallow of summer. It speaks of the lip biting sherbet melancholy of retreating friendships and the poignant crunching wisdom heavy air-giddy and sonorous-of last pavement partings as the lights flash under the blue-night.

Not that it's not twisted. Blacklist opens, after all, with a glitchy-chemical suite, toytown pianos unravelling into a cartoon nightmarish ness, and the tone continues of absurdism, amusement and terror alike akin to being confronted in the dark with pretty Bordeaux girls with smudged mascara, glow-pads and demented lipstick grins. 'Human Piles' returns us to the underground abrasiveness of hammer-dub-step, before another ominous electro-bass with keytars wraps like creepers around the chorus's, spilling into the verses; it's off-kilter, off -step with dance-floors, a compendium of the myriad possibilities open to Electronica. Blacklist is the ghost in dance's mirror.

Yes, believe in those familiar thumping rhythms and electro-feed-squeals, but believe too that whilst most dance music keeps you in the building's groove or the beach, Kap Bambino produce the kind of bedroom-Saturday night and Sunday morning, party and mood music album that goes from straight groove-down coupling pulses to the translucent afternoon glows of cafes and malls. Most dance albums are filled with remixes or filler because -much like nu-metal or a hundred one week trends, they deal in one tone, one strand of feeling. This album is the most fulfilling 'dance' compilation I've come across since Witching Hour (or 3, if you really want to stretch 'dance's' remit)—because it never abandons its eclecticism but has that singularity of purpose, brings that energy to each proceeding, regardless of how downbeat. Kap Bambino suddenly became music reripped from the contingent into a space where it speaks to everything you've ever felt-a transcendent pop shaped from aural refuse and noise-just like Psychocandy, Microcastle, MBV, any of those rightfully valorised records. If not quite as seminal, it has better beats and-- vocals you can postively shriek to. A win.

Release date 01/06/09