Pascal Arbez, the man who calls himself Vitalic, doesn’t listen to techno. In fact, he has said that he finds most techno albums boring. Brother, don’t I know it. There are always exceptions, primarily in Paris and in Detroit, but the house crowd rarely comes forth with an album that surpasses monotonous. Because Arbez isn’t much of a techno fan himself, however, he doesn’t come off sounding much like his supposed contemporaries. Rather, his brand of electro-shock is some of the most exciting to pop up on both European and American shores since Spike Jonze directed several mummies and skeletons to dance around a multi-tiered stage cake.
Vitalic’s debut, OK Cowboy, has been awash in rock critic buzz since its initial debut across the Atlantic, but upon its American release, it remains edgy and enthralling. In avoiding traditional techno sounds, Arbez sidesteps the typical trappings of the albums he, himself, would find boring. He’s a rock star at heart, and his dance jams are packed with distortion and attitude. I don’t frequent the discotheque, myself, but if I heard any of the tracks on OK Cowboy at a bar, I might be inclined to shake it. I think I may have to pass on those brown tabs, however.
One thing that any electro producer can do is make a good, danceable single. And Vitalic has a handful right here. “My Friend Dario,” with accompanying robot/rocker video, is a buzzing cybernetic Jesus and Mary Chain sounding track that revs like a Harley. Meanwhile, “Poney Pt. 1” is an eerie, yet still distorted track that creates as much mood with its melody as it does energy with its beats. And its counterpart, “Poney Pt. 2,” is a woozy, vocodered stomp with a fine share of blips and beeps for ornamentation.
So it’s got singles. That’s not necessarily novel. What is interesting is that Arbez never allows a song to pass the 5:30 mark. Not even the Chemical Brothers could do that. Certainly not Daft Punk. And don’t even get me started on Underworld (not that they’re not awesome, but that’s not the point). With brevity in mind, many of the other tracks on the album are just as worthy of a single release, though they gel together well as a whole album. To match louder tracks like the buzzing “La Rock 01” and odd filtered voices of “Newman,” there are quieter, quirkier moments, such as the curious, short opener “Polkamatic” and the Air-like chill-out of “The Past.” Even the most amped-up of clubgoers needs a record to bring them back down after the last bead of sweat has rolled down and the adrenaline (or uppers) has worn off.
Arbez is right. Techno is boring. No matter how loud, heavy or “sexy,” it’s still the same fucking beats over and over again. Ok Cowboy, however, is the farthest thing from boring. Even the most exhausted of genres has its superstars. Electro/techno/house has a handful, and Vitalic is one of them.
Daft Punk – Homework
Ellen Allien – Thrills
Mylo – Destroy Rock & Roll
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.