Well, lads and lasses, here we are at an impasse. I’m a music reviewer, as you might be aware. Those who can’t, teach, and those who can’t teach end up writing music reviews. I’m at the bottom of the food chain, there’s no doubt about it. Usually a reviewer can gloss over a piece of music. Stick to the press release. Maybe even listen to the album once or twice. I like to take a little bit of time, to the dismay of my adoring public and perhaps the silent frustration of my employers.
I’ve listened to Zoomer, the new release by German electronic musician, Schneider TM around five times over the past two weeks. Now, that’s not a lot of times for an album I’m going to review, but I think it might be a bit more time than some other reviewers take and maybe a bit more than the album deserves. So, just consider that I’ve been allotting time to ruminate over this album. I’ve even written several completely contradictory reviews.
They both start out the same way. “Before I praise a German electronic musician for a several pages, I like to reflect.” It’s true. I intended to give credit to Schneider TM, initially, in both cases. Zoomer is, at least on a superficial level, an album of slightly off-beat sounds, though right under the surface, those sounds snugly confirm the clichés of modern electronic dance music.
In both reviews, I go on to explain that I didn’t like dance music growing up. Raves seemed like the defining activity of a counterculture of confident suburbanites, who liked to dress up, get high, and feel themselves together. I know it sounds square. I know it’s the equivalent of saying all hippies were stoned morons, when in all actuality “they did a lot of good for the community.” But fuck the hippies and fuck ravers. You know, there’s a reason that rave culture got co-opted into every car commercial over the past decade, and it’s not because corporate America is the devil, it’s because so much dance music is pandering wank.
Where I start to get uncertain, though, is in deciding if Zoomer is, in fact, pandering wank. I’m just a bitter guy, after all. I sat home watching Three’s Company while everyone was out partying.
Experimentation, color, individuality are the things that made it possible for me to eventually come around to electronic music; those are things you can find it anywhere if you keep your ears open. Yet reduced to its formal elements, Schneider TM=EDs new album is a collection analog synthesizer sounds, an occasional vocoder-treated voice, and some surround-sound woosh-saturated beats make for the duration. With verses and choruses. Cheap pop music thrills, that due to the facade of the electronic fad, might be lauded as something more complex.
According to the press release, Zoomer is inspired by Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information, the often-brilliant soul album reissued on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label last year. On the first three tracks, it’s audible in the often fantastic hooks, solid beats, and lyrical bizarreness (“Frogtoise” is pretty self-explanatory, right?), yet it seems like the muse is gone by the time Schneider TM starts settling for a rap schtick on the fifth track, “Turn On.” From track four to track seven (of an album with eight tracks), Zoomer is strictly for the clubs, largely dance-motivated filler with nothing particularly special jumping out. =46rom the somewhat slick, monotonous funk of “Hunger,” to the culmination in the rankling repetition of “999,” while Schneider TM is clearly trying to display his eclecticism, he seems to be falling on his face a bit. Experimentation is respectable, but rather than come across as a dilettante, TM’s forays into rap, funk, and whatever kind of banal minimalism “999” is supposed to be about, seem to be playing it safe.
By the closing number, “Cuba TM,” Schneider TM basically recycles the ideas he used effectively in the first half of the album, so while it’s solid, it’s just not particularly exciting. With such a hard-on for eclecticism, it seems like a lot of “Intelligent Dance Music” is not only interchangeable, but scatterbrained. There is not enough tying Zoomer together, nothing making it a full album experience like Inspiration Information has the distinction of being.
Mute Records: http://www.mute.com