Glaswegian producer Rudi Zygadlo is an artist notionally making dance music. Zygadlo’s debut album 2010’s Great Western Layman fits the category, with its expressive take on dubstep pushing and twisting the sounds in all sorts of idiosyncratic directions. Now resident in Berlin, a city with a famously rich tradition of electronic music, Zygadlo has sought to take his music markedly further away from traditional ideas of club based dance music on his second album for Planet Mu.
The notion of dance music only barely fits Tragicomedies. It is entirely electronic and rooted in beats and rhythms; however, it is a record that has far more in common with classical music and traditional song structures. These influences are melded and warped by Zygadlo into a rich tapestry of textured sounds that make for an exquisitely immersive listen.
As the literary referencing title suggests, Zygadlo is far from your clichéd electro producer. He has stated that literature and Greek mythology are a strong influence on the record, with song titles like Persephone, Melpomene, Catharine and Waltz For Daphnis bearing this influence. It is a whole world away from Calvin Harris. In keeping with the cerebral sounds of the album all 13 tracks feature vocals from Zygadlo, delivered in a beguilingly soulful croon that at once seems to channel David Bowie and the blue eyed ’80s soul of Roddy Frame warped beyond all recognition. The vocals and strong songwriting help to make electronic pieces that could be cold and foreboding richly soulful and compelling.
Opening track Kopernikuss is a prime example of the album’s mix between very traditional sounds and modern production techniques. The track is a soulful, gentle piano ballad referencing lost love. The emotional resonance of Zygadlo’s voice is coupled with a disorientating abundance of pitch-shifted samples. Melpomene offers even more discombobulating sounds. The piece is a kind of baroque electronica that richly swells to a glorious crescendo.
While Tragicomedies’ sound is mostly hard to categorise, a few reference points do jump out. The ornate song structures and propensity for oblique references are reminiscent of Julia Holter‘s similarly idiosyncratic opus Ekstasis. Zygadlo’s approach to cerebral electronica though is rather more pop oriented, and there are frequent moments that bring to mid the restless experimentalism of RnB at its most futuristic and challenging. For example, the stuttering slow jam Russian Dolls is simply stunning. You could easily imagine someone like Aaliyah singing the vocal hook. Zygadlo’s own effects-laden croon brings to mind the vocals of Hot Chip‘s Alexis Taylor, and is no less effective.
If there is one outstanding criticism it is that the album ploughs the same weird electro funk furrow a few too many times, and ponderous tracks like Catharine and the title track ever so slightly drag. This is a minor quibble though when you get tracks as engaging as the brilliantly fun electro glide of On, which sounds like James Blake taken to a completely new heavenly ascension.
Rudi Zygadlo still just about makes dance music but there is nothing here that will be played in a club, and certainly not in the techno clubs of his adopted homeland in Berlin. Tragicomedies is an album that is about far more than dance floor thrills. Rudi Zygadlo proves here that he is far more than an electro producer, and has delivered a second album that frequently captivates and often mystifies.