Since the mid-to-late ’90s, when artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre started rising in prominence in the field of electronic music, the genre has gained a certain air of elitism about it. That is not to say that the above mentioned artists helped inculcate this idea, or that their music is somehow guilty of a crime; really, quite the contrary. This elitism that I speak of, this sense of the music existing in a rarefied realm outside the domain of contemporary popular music, is a largely imposed notion, one born outside the work of the artists, fed and cared for by critics and fans alike, until it grew into a monster used to scare off the average listener. The final dubbing of artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre as IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) eventually granted this monster its own dominion, though whether this was the intention behind the coinage of the term is a difficult claim to make. Nonetheless, artists under the imposed rule of the term IDM had to deal with the stigma of being considered something they, in all likelihood, did not think of themselves, one of a long list of cases in which genre markers supersede the voice of the artists: The rise of “Indie” is another example.
Now that “Indie” has risen to its current stature and, in its rise, has taken quite a liking to differing forms of electronic pop, electronic music seems to have lost much of its elitist stigma. Nevertheless, when artists like Matmos or Clark come on my shuffled library, people in the room tend to prick up their ears and turn with queer looks. Some of that may be attributed to the music itself, granted, but its the fact that its specifically this kind of music, that is, electronic music. Conversely, if a grindcore track came from my roommate’s computer, we might laugh and bang our heads ironically, but for some reason, this breed of electronic music seems beyond the pale, beyond even the grasp of irony.
Even I Am Robot and Proud might have been considered beyond the pale earlier in his career. As his name suggests, he is fond of using uncolored electronic noises to voice his music. The echoes of motorik-driven Kraftwerk might be sounding as you read this, but that’s probably not the most accurate expectation to have of I Am Robot. As one of his album titles put it, The Electricity in Your House Wants to Sing. Sing! Not chug forward. Indeed, I Am Robot employs a whole chorus of electro-tonic timbres and uses them to their greatest advantage through meticulous arrangement and interspersion of complimentary melodies, even earlier in his career. It is only now however, with Uphill City, that it seems he has come to ally his robot pride with with a distinct brand of pleasantness that one can hear right at the very beginning of the album. The lead-in to “Something to Write Home About” immediately hooks and bobs your head, back and forth in quick succession to the pulse. It is one of the few hooks that seems to be able to drive its force through multiple melodies as well, not reliant on its own simple tones and rhythm, but pervades through the entire song as if encoded into the meter. This inviting sort of pleasantness allows one to forget about the rarefied realm of IDM. The music seems to break free of that imposed title.
THE ELECTRICITY IN YOUR HOUSE WANTS TO SING!
Yes! It wants to sing, break out and break free of the strict circuits of prejudice and genre that guide its path. And Uphill City sings in ways that I Am Robot never before. Some of the tracks on the album seem to reach escape velocity with their dynamics, particularly the title track, where the escalating melodies seem to break free from their volume. The track “Island Life” seems even to break free from the 4/4 meter that seems almost inescapable in electronic music, especially after the influence of bands like Kraftwerk. I Am Robot, in Uphill City, really seems to sing: He is not merely making music. With this, he can maybe cast off the expectations of the listener.