Friday, April 16, 2010

Vector Lovers - Vector Lovers (Original TC Review)

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Soma Quality Recordings: Cat. # SOMA CD037
Released 2004

Track List:
1. Girl + Robot (5:13)
2. Tokyo Glitterati (4:18)
3. Telecom Meltdown (4:32)
4. Electrobotik Disco (4:51)
5. Funk & Droid (5:10)
6. Electrosuite (7:46)
7. Yamonte Sundown (6:16)
8. Futures In Plastic (5:02)
9. Kissed You by The Fountain (2:34)
10. Lake Nocturne (3:31)
11. Metrolux Forever (4:39)
12. Solitare (4:17)


(2010 Update:
It was with this album that I firmly planted my "what is and isn't electro" flag, going on a many year, mostly futile, crusade to save the sanctity of the good name electro. Begrudgingly, I've since accepted electro has now come to encompass drunk-stomp fart abrasiveness, but if you want to hear some electro with class, check out these tunes. I still do.)



IN BRIEF: Robotic romance.

Vector Lovers is Martin Wheeler, a self-professed lover of things robotic and anime. You may remember his music on such compilations as Balance 007 - Chris Fortier or Soma Compilation 2005, and, um, very little else it would seem. Give it some time though, because Wheeler’s debut is potentially a slow burner (yes, he’s released another album since this one, but let’s just focus on the debut for now).

I suppose the thing that may have initially held Vector Lovers back is the fact it is electro. This normally wouldn’t be a problem but when anything with a dated, fuzzy, or analogue synth is branded electro these days, it’s not surprising someone would off-handedly mutter, “Oh, it’s just another ‘electro’ release.”

In this case though, Vector Lovers is 100% true-blue electro. This is robot music as Kraftwerk, um, crafted. Music for robots to disco dance to. Music for machines to tour neo-Tokyo to. Music for cute anime girls in mecha-suits to make love to. Well, maybe not quite that far, although given some of the cartoons that come out of Japan it wouldn’t surprise me.

Still, Wheeler fully intended manga-esque images to crop up while listening to Vector Lovers, as is evidenced by the anime artwork he drew himself for this album. Let’s see how it turns out here.

Girl + Robot is aptly titled, as it sounds like a robot serenading a girl. No, seriously! With underlying electro beats and backing synths, a robotic noise seemingly sings. Midway through, a lovely little melody on bells emerges, creating a touching atmosphere as the robot continues to sing. If Kraftwerk had ever collaborated with Kitaro, they’d probably produce something that sounds like this.

Keeping with the theme of ‘machines in love’ is Tokyo Glitterati. A delicate melody over sparse electro rhythms sets the tone of this track, allowing wintery pads to conjure up melancholy emotions as they play. The elements are fairly simple, and Glitterati is quite short for the themes it sets, but this is still a wonderfully touching song, once more proving you don’t need to over-produce electronic music to evoke emotions.

If the opening two tracks are where the robots met and fell in love, then this next segment is where they go out on the town. Telecom Meltdown brings the pace up a bit, settling into laid-back techno. Quite the minimal track, the simple subdued synth stabs and jazzy electro organs makes me feel as though I’m casually cruising through a Tokyo district filled with flashing neon lights, passing humans and androids bustling about on the sidewalks.

Elektrobotik Disco sounds much like how the title reads. The funk-fuel is injected but we’re still cruising along to zap stabs, synth sweeps, and robo-talk. I can’t understand what the robotic voices are saying, and I suspect that’s kind of the point. As techno always intended, Wheeler is creating music for droids, or at least the futuristic possibility of it. Luckily, us puny flesh creatures get to enjoy it in the here and now.

The vibes get more hectic as we move onto Funk & Droid. Perhaps the title is self-explanatory, but let me provide a little detail. It starts out as you might expect with house rhythms and squelchy hooks sounding like some sort of chunky R2-Unit. Some two minutes in though, this track will leap out at you with added beat rolls and subdued sweeping synths. From there, the squelchy hooks really let loose, bringing Funk & Droid to wicked heights. Can the funk get any better?

Hell yeah it can. Electrosuite takes elements we’ve heard from the last couple tracks, cranks the funk further, and throws in a robotic voice saying “Electrobotik disco beat; Always keep the electro sweet” in time to the rhythm. Wheeler even mixes the words up to keep things fresh. And those squelchy synths! My God are they ever funky! This is electro house done fucking proper, my friends. It’s utterly irresistible; you’ll be moving your body no matter how unfunky you be. Electrosuite is what Daft Punk’s latest would have sounded like if they’d given a damn. You’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten there’s more to Vector Lovers than just super funky electro house.

In case you did forget, Wheeler brings us back to some of the themes established at the start with Yamonte Sundown. Similar in its yin/yang approach as Girl + Robot, it starts out with moody, dark sounds and simple breakbeats as robotic voices utter unintelligible things again (Electrosuite’s the only track on this album you’ll be able to understand the robo-talk). Halfway through, a nice bleepy melody joins the foreboding song, eventually taking over the track entirely as the former elements withdraw. Yamonte Sundown isn’t nearly as dynamic as some of the tracks that came before, but is still an engaging listen nonetheless.

As if to prove he isn’t just a two-trick pony (hey, that’s still more than most producers), Futures In Plastic has Wheeler flexing the electro muscle to the limit. This track is more in vein of the newer forms of electro acts like Drexciya and Jedi Knights are known for, and it fortunately remains distinctive enough to remain a part of the Vector Lovers theme. The beats sound pretty erratic, yet groovey enough to not get lost. Along with bubbly synths and spacey pads, Futures is quite fun to listen to as it never settles into standard loops.

Kissed You By The Fountain is a bit of charming electro with an innocent cuteness in the melody. It certainly plays to the whole anime feel more than the robotic feel, although there are enough quirky machine noises in the background to remind us they are still about. It’s not long though, so let’s move onto the next track.

With Lake Nocturne, Wheeler stumbles. Hey, it was a good run while it lasted but it’s rare to come across an album of all killer, even from producers that show some incredible talent in their chosen field. I can hear what he was shooting for with this track, a sort of melancholy, introspective piece with a synthetic flute-ish instrument carrying the bulk of the melody. Unfortunately, his use of rhythmic sounds are annoyingly garish, and there’s just not enough substance in the background elements to save this. At least it’s a shorter track, so we can quickly get back into something more engaging.

We’re on the chilled-out outro segment of this album now, as we move into the ambient techno domain that made Boards Of Canada such darlings of the musical elite. Metrolux Forever has some nice melodies to go along with the synthetic sounds but Solitare outshines it with the simple Ballerina-Box-like melody over sparse metronome clicks and warm backing pads. A very lovely little tune, Solitare is a perfect closer to this eclectic album.

As I understand it, Wheeler initially had Vector Lovers available only as a CDr through a custom website before Soma picked this up for wider distribution. I’m glad they did. For a label known more for its gritty tech house and techno, this is a bit of a quirky release to add to their catalogue. Still, Soma has been known to take chances in the past (who do you think released the first Daft Punk single?) and it pays off here.

This album is definitely worth checking out for everyone who enjoys electro, as the music is pulled off with stunning finesse for a debut album. Wheeler does funky electro house without a hitch but it's the wonderfully touching melodies in tracks such as Tokyo Glitterati and Solitare that manage to elevate this above many electro acts - proper and poseur - with his own unique style. Whereas most electro tends to be like Ghost In The Shell, Vector Lovers is more like Armitage: robots may one day live side by side with humans, but it will be as affectionate comrades rather than with the technology overwhelming our souls. In Wheeler’s mind, the future is an inviting place.


Score: 8/10

ACE TRACKS:
Tokyo Glitterati
Electrosuite
Futures In Plastic


Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for TranceCritic.com. © All rights reserved.

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