There have been three hyped-unto-infinity European dance albums released this summer, each an all but certain crossover success—Simian Mobile Disco’s Attack Decay Sustain Release, Justice’s †, and Idealism, the first full-length from Hamburg duo, Digitalism. Of the three, SMD is the most overtly pop; Justice thrives on braining their audience with punk and metal translated for the dance floor (“D.A.N.C.E.” is an obvious exception, pointing to the R&B strain of their work); and Digitalism is the most rooted in new wave and post-punk. This fascination was evident on the first original that Digitalism released, “Idealism,” and on their latest single “Pogo” it predominates. As a whole, their work is concise, but rough in all the right places. Edgy, but never overly abrasive. It is obvious that they are channeling a lot of influences, often times in directions that end up feeling surprisingly appropriate. They are at the heart of a fringe dance music scene as it moves into the spotlight, and at the same time are able to maintain their allegiance to bands like Joy Division and Depeche Mode. There is an element of darkness in their music, measured and insistent, that endows even their slightest efforts with a touch of gravity.
To begin with: “Zdarlight.” Alternative spelling of Starlight. Released by French tastemakers Kitsuné, it quickly became a ubiquitous club hit, played by DJs all over Europe and beyond, among them Tiga and Soulwax. It was only a matter of time before a group started making tracks big enough to incite a club audience, yet compelling enough to become the soundtrack for head-phoned hipsters on romps around town or seated on cross-town trains. “Zdarlight” bristles with wildly kinetic energy. Irresistible passages of disruptive calm are immolated in frenetic synth bursts and druggy guitar lines. It is the kind of track that can make a relatively staid house party go primitive. It continues to appeal to an ever widening demographic, and with its rejuvenation on Idealism it will surely make subsequent rounds of crowd conquering.
Getting back to “Pogo,” released as a single in the spring, it is one of those tracks that demand to be played again and again with each passing summer day. It may be the epitomic hybrid of electronic and indie dance music, barbed with ragged hooks and pulsating to a steady beat. It wraps Digitalism’s distinctive production around a furtive pop song as instantaneously energizing as any released in 2007. “I Want, I Want” is another example of the boys rocking out, while “Appolo-gize” is the album’s moment of pure ’80s synth grandeur. Each shows them able to compose songs that are simple and effecting, maximized by the steady hands at the controls.
A necessary enough question: will those who are mesmerized by “Pogo” be disappointed with what they find on the rest of Idealism? Some are sure to be. There is certainly more and more interest from all directions in electronic music. This has been the case for years, but it seems that lately even more people find that one track which serves as a gateway into a world they have never thought to explore. Certainly, Digitalism has been the key to turn the lock for a lot of people in the last couple years, and I think with repeated listens even the heavy dance tracks like “Jupiter Room” and “Zdarlight” endear themselves to those who would expect otherwise.
There is an element of rock and roll to everything Digitalism do, as there is an element of mercurial cool. What they are doing may very well become the blueprint for a lot of dance/rock not so far down the line. But for now, most impressively, from a unique palate of sounds they have put together a cohesive, exceptional album.