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Music Reviews

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Monsters and Silly Songs

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

March 14, 2007
How many times have you picked up an album and thought, this looks and sounds so corny, it's gotta be bad? Many times I do the same, only to later listen and find out the opposite is true. Joakim's third album, Monsters & Silly Songs, is a deceptively tacky looking but amazing album.

Joakim is the shortened moniker of French electronic producer Joakim Bouaziz. As a solo artist, Bouaziz has released two albums of acclaim - Tiger Sushi (after which his label is named) and Fantomes - and has done several notable remixes for groups like Air, Fischerspooner, and Antenna. Monsters & Silly Songs breaks from the tradition of Joakim's previous efforts and is the producer's first with other musicians playing equal creative roles, this time as live players.

But Joakim's usage of live instrumentation is not typical to the instruments' form, say as a verse-chorus-verse formulaic rock band or improvisational jazz group. Instead these instruments are used much in the way a DJ uses record samples and knobs. A good example is the tune "Three Legged Lantern," in which a central four-tone, 8th-note synthesizer riff is repeated for seven minutes. Other colorings are put over the top of that riff - vocal harmony chants, a bouncy three-note synth riff, other cosmic keyboard sounds and vocal samples, drum set, and electric bass and guitar. The composition might highlight a vocal chant for 16 measures, then crescendo the focus onto an ambient chord that will last for the next minute. Whatever it is, Bouaziz uses these live parts as lattice and molds them into one structure, much like how a DJ would extract specific beats and melodies and then clash them together as a mix.

Although I was a bit skeptical about an electronic producer making music with a full backing band - the publicity angle for this album likens Joakim to LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, and others - Bouaziz dodges the pitfalls of DJ dance music or electroclash that we have heard "uniquely revisited" so many times before. Instead, the producer leans on the strengths of the incorporated instruments and what sounds he can get out of them, e.g. not just rock from an electric guitar/drums pairing, but also cosmic disco, dance music, psychedelic jams, post-punk, et cetera.

This broad spectrum and unconventional creative vision are what make Monsters & Silly Songs so good. I mean, the thing is being issued by electronic label !K7 and its second song, "Sleep In Hollow Tree," sounds exactly like something from the early years of Joy Division and the UK post-punk scene. Later, the danceably sour "Lonely Hearts" finds a way of melding nearly monotone vocal choir (but in a good way) with an on-the-beat punk/disco rock groove, handclaps, and trippy sound swells.

The overall vision is also built up of intermittent song vignettes that parry numbing comfort, and climax to the album's more single-like material. "Monster #1," "Peter Pan Over the Bronx," and "Everything Bright and Still" are three of these mood breakers, each a bit experimental and fitting in their own way. What everything on this album seems to be building up to are the excited, funky dance moments like "Drumtrax." The six-minute electro dance groove is even a bit unconventional itself in that during the song, the tempo gradually slows down and speeds up again. Few would even try such a trick but Joakim pulls it off quite well.

It's a good thing that an album's sound is not dictated by the artistic choices made in other areas (the kiddy-looking front cover artwork being a case in point). For Joakim, the musical ventures are all that matter. And in this case, the choice to formulate a melding pot sound, compiled of electronic/'80s Brit punk/experimental/pop instrumentation and ideas, happens to be right on the money. Fuck all the other stuff, it's all about the music anyway, right?

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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