Over 100 years ago, Dickens told a story of how a legal battle over a large inheritance was manipulated over a long period of time, in order to absorb that inheritance in fees for the lawyers on the case. If it happened these days, we might call it a corporate crime, and the law firm criminals. Dublin techno act Hystereo have produced their first album and called it Corporate Crimewave, almost certainly in reference to the myriad evils of the modern globalised economy and without a passing thought for Dickens. Both, however, have created something unique – something that I can only describe as Bleak House (groan….)
Seriously though, it is house music – or rather techno with that house-rhythm shuffle beloved of Daft Punk – and it’s bleak. Their record label, Soma, would have you believe otherwise calling them energetic and funky. Perhaps, playing live in a club environment, they are just that – but not here. There are funky basslines aplenty, and plenty of pace, but somehow by the end of each tune an over-riding sense of melancholy seems to kick in, the sense that there’s something seriously missing but you can’t quite place what it is.
Corporate Crimewave is bold and minimalist throughout, relying a lot on brash analogue synth stabs over simple shuffled techno rhythms with very little in the way of additional texture or big production. It should be quite refreshing, hearing a techno act that appear to have left anything with even a reverb function outside the studio door and eschewed prog house production standards completely. But it isn’t. Where Richie Hawtin once hypnotised with masterfully placed bleepy noises, where Dave Clarke produced threat and menace from a simple four four shuffle, heck, where Daft Punk (Hystereo’s most obvious reference point) somehow got that sleazy punk rudeness into every squelch they produced, Hystereo just don’t do it.
Maybe it’s unfair to use such high reference points, but when you have such sparse and open production, every squelch, every beat has to have a purpose. That sense of purpose seems absent here, as does the cheeky sense of confidence that lifts a handful of beats and noises and turns it into something special. Often it feels like there’s potential: single Validity Revision manages to build a real sense of tension and edgy menace as does the title track, but instead of resolving into something powerful they seem to peter out into submission. A distinctive approach for our times maybe, but for me it’s just too bleak.
That’s the problem here – there’s no joy. Joy can come from angry music, sad music, happy music, defiant music, any music that delivers on what it sets out to do. To my ears at least, Hystereo have set out with laudable intentions but just haven’t delivered on them this time around. It may be a bleak world we live in, but our dance music needn’t be that way too.