It’s understandable if your heart sinks when you read of a new, “futuristic” electronica act. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Fischerspooner were wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes, claiming to be the future of rock’n’roll. Sadly they were more Sigue Sigue Sputnik for the 21st century, with all the ineptitude that implies.
Schneider TM, known to his mum as Dirk Dresselhaus, claims to concentrate on ‘proper’ songs above all else. He even released a reworking of the classic Smiths song ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, complete with robotic vocals and the obligatory bleepy noises. Guaranteed to have Morrissey weeping into his gladioli, but certainly the mark of a man willing to experiment.
Zoomer, the follow up to 1998’s Moist, continues that record’s experimental style of conventional pop structure married to a Kraftwerk-like backdrop. It’s intriguing, and certainly doesn’t always work, but Dresselhaus gives it his best shot.
The opening ‘Reality Check’ for instance, is a quirkily pretty little track that you could almost imagine Badly Drawn Boy writing. However, it manages to be spoilt not only by the odd ludicrous lyric (“a tree is a forest, like the one from the Cure”), but also by the dreaded vocoder. Since Cher managed to get her hands on a vocoder, its sheer ubiquity means that familiarity has bred contempt for these mechanised vocals.
Luckily human vocals reappear for Frogtoise, and the initial effect is pleasing. Multi-layered harmonies and a jittery chopped up beat give the track an icily paranoid edge. However, as it progresses it becomes clear that lyrics and vocals are not Dresselhaus’ strength. “I had a dream, I cut a frog in half/and a turtle too…I felt ashamed” leaves the listener feeling bemused more than anything.
It comes as no coincidence that possibly the best tracks on the album are those in which Dresselhaus sticks to the music. ‘DJ Guy?’ begins as a softly ambient piece before upping the tempo and succeeding in not being too irritating or overstating its welcome. Dresselhaus sticks here to intoning “just a DJ guy”, which going by the rest of the album’s lyrics, is a blessing.
Ultimately, it’s hard to see who Schneider TM will appeal to. It’s too song based to have much to offer those who just want atmosphere from their electronica. On the other hand there’s no chance of any crossover success here, a la Moby, as Dresselhaus’ atrocious lyrics and grating Teutonic vocals will leave many cold. Perhaps he’d better stick to the Smiths cover versions.