Isolée - We Are Monster
Remember the summer of '94? The smack of a TB-303 against willow? Tea on the lush lawn with the Hartnoll brothers; dark and long sunny evenings spent with Messrs. Smith, Hyde and Emerson and life on the sine waves with Captain R.D. James? Innovative, cohesive electronic albums were produced that not only roused the slumbering critics, but captured the imagination of the public.
That was then. Ideas that were once fresh became stale - tastes change – and the clamour for 'a big hit' from the Shylocks in the record companies meant that dance and electronic music was forced to compromise or remain forever on the sidelines. Overground returned underground, DJ culture ruled the roost and spasmodic bursts of chartbound danceland creativity watered down to fit the playlists’ version of the nation’s taste. Vocals were superimposed over the top of underground favourites, showing as much grace as George Lucas’ retweaked Star Wars films: in other words, dodgy cut n’ shut jobs. Resulting albums show a narrower vision: one chart killer followed by nine or so photocopied fillers. However, now the dark is rising…
Isolée's Rajko Müller is a minimalist house producer whose throwback tracks evoke the advent of indie electronic pop of the early 80's – think Depeche Mode, Human League and OMD – as well as the aforementioned godheads from a decade on. Müller’s work first gained global notice throughout 1997 with the house epic Beau Mot Plague being championed by the likes of Sasha, John Digweed and ‘deep and dark house king’ (copyright Mixmag) Danny Tenaglia in the DJ community. After a huge period of inactivity Müller returns under the Isolée banner with the album We Are Monster, the follow-up to his debut Rest.
The opening track Pictureloved - warm tones, pulsing rhythm, punctuated by unobtrusive melodies - teases the window into Müller's world open. The song sounds as though it's being pulled by mutant disco gravity into permanent freefall, whilst all around ghostly voices are sucked into a whirlpool of shadowy colours and rippling, liquid bass. This is followed by Schrapnell, house with a country twang; all Duane Eddy guitar, BJ Cole pedal steel and harmonica, which in lesser hands (I'm looking at you, Mr Cook) would, on paper, sound like a very bad idea. Here, Isolée embeds the differing styles with a deftness and lightness of touch that prevents it falling into novelty or pastiche. Most impressive, and this cuts through the entire album, is the craft and attention to detail; these are intricate and complex songs that are executed to sound so simple. Even in its most childlike moments, with quirky elements floating in the foreground, and subliminally in the background, there are seismic shifts in direction which prevent them ever seeming formulaic.
The album's highpoint, My Hi-Matic, starts all strident and eager before setting off echoing electronic music's forebearers with all the confidence and bravado of a cider-fuelled teenager at a youth club. Thundering Underworld-esque percussion kicks in; acid squeals like a kicked cat, all underpinned by a dreamy, hypnotic Giorgio Moroder-inspired bassline. Computer World-era Kraftwerk melodies breeze in and out of the mix before an 80's synth slap-bass gatecrashes the party, timidly followed by a plaintive refrain and coda straight out of Boards of Canada's rucksack. However, this is not a grape and grain cocktail; the sounds pass by like exotic unchartered destinations on the other side of a vehicle window along a dream excursion, teasing the listener to reach out and touch.
Not all the experimentation proves successful; Jelly Baby/Fish attempts an aqua cyber-funk fusion similar to Remedy-era Basement Jaxx. Yet, rather than mining a deep sea Parliament P-funk groove, it treads water far too long in the shallow end of an 80's water aerobics class - workout music provided by Five Star's System Addict.
Elsewhere, We Are Monster takes on many guises, from the ghostly dark dub of Enrico to the plasticine robo-funk of Do-Re-Mi, set in a future where bleep is the new bling. The territory explored also becomes more exotic, from the otherworldly malevolence of Face B with its brooding buzzsaw bass to the wonky yomp through the acid hall of mirrors that is Madchen Mit Hase.
Pillowtalk ends the album in appropriate fashion; an exploratory voyage of minimal galactic house, a spiritual cousin to Orbital's Out There Somewhere?. It's with these nods to the past, and awareness of his peers, that Rajko Müller shows wisdom, by distilling the pureness of vision and pop sensibility of the bygone golden age and applying it to the fresh sounds of today, creating a complex retro-futuristic vision. Despite the jack-knifing structure and the intricate nature of the album, it never alienates the listener; soothing and melodic pop sounds create an articulate, accessible dancefloor dream that may beguile but never feel detached and austere.
And so as the dark rises, We Are Monster provides light on the electronic horizon. Squint carefully and it could be a pair of nodding torch-affixed spectacles - but open your eyes and the light burns much brighter.