don’t know what the German Beck might sound like, but Schneider TM’s often crowded in that pigeonhole. Sure, he’s a willfully obtuse young fella, hell-bent on twisting pop music through the sausage grinder and seeing what emerges pink and pulpy at the other end. I mean, look at the cover of his last album, Zoomer. What in the name of all things unholy is with those glasses? The Six Million Dollar Man as envisioned by the creative staff at Nickelodeon and funded by PBS? Christ. Once inside, the music was no less peculiar. One of its most puzzling tracks, “Frogtoise,” could have been an ode to high school biology dissection. Creepy and unsettling, it captured the bionic slicing of cold amphibian skin with the twinkling metallic touch of electronic pop. Still, as awkward and beguiling as Zoomer proved, its combination of gilded pop melodies and gurgling electronic beats was one of 2002’s most interesting releases, and it firmly established Schneider TM as an artist to watch.
And, by God, who are we to refuse the promise of future endeavors? But it’s been a while. In fact, no proper album (the remix EP 6 Peace notwithstanding) has appeared until Reconfigures, this year’s remix release. And with the selection of artists like Lambchop and the Faint to contort the bubbling sparks of miswired electronics, Schneider TM presents us with a decidedly mixed bag. When Reconfigures works, and it does so only with a program function at your fingertips, it stands with Zoomer as the most expansive pop of his young career, giving new angles to songs long since taken for granted and perhaps forgotten. When it fails, the sound you hear is Prince suing for slander and copyright infringement. And that short, velveteen Minneapolitan is mad.
He has a right to be. “Ephe Kicks in, Feel Like Kevin” is a soggy dance jam that forgets Prince helped create this subgenre. This is electrofunk, with minor alterations and negligible cross-stitchings. Screeching robotic breakdowns thud below a deadringer-style vocal chorus, its spastic Brazilian-waxed-soul reaching so far beyond castrato you feel queasy and tight. The vibrant groove and over-the-top stretches upon which Prince banked future failings is canned and bottled here, resulting in a song more “Rockit” than “Delirious.”
This deadfunk estrangement continues with “Grace (Space Mix).” Atop a space-shuttle beat that pins down its classic-funk guitar rhythm (think early Funkadelic without the acid and, most importantly, sans Eddie Hazel), trip-hop artist Ruby sings with an aluminum sheen that never comes within shouting distance of its namesake. Again, Schneider TM lacks the will-less bop that early funk artists brought to their music; his attempts to dress the genre with tightly-wound beats and scattered effects sound like marshmallow goo on a porterhouse. Listen to Al Green’s classic HI releases, for example, and you come to understand the simple groove is self-sufficient within the proper bounds. Here, Ruby’s dance-crafted neo-croon is left to work in isolation; she’s cheated by the track’s watery strut and left on an island with deflated water wings. The whirs and whizzes become tired cosmetic enhancements, and lack the boundlessness of Schneider TM’s better reworkings.
Fortunately, Reconfigures finds time for tracks more conducive to Schneider TM’s talents. The opener, “Suck or Run,” a remix of the electronic group Pulseprogramming, sounds like Notwist in a Zoloft-glow. A rich acoustic guitar floats above a trademarked kitchen-sink beat; the vocals are screened through thickly-knotted barbed wire, distant and all-too-properly effete. The down-tempo lilt is soft, but twists through enough unseen flourishes to keep it moving.
Elsewhere, Schneider TM’s Lambchop remix, “The New Cobweb Summer,” should make Kurt Wagner consider future collaborations. Against another set of heavily-treated vocals, a slow piano drops like junglerain against the song’s subtle rhythms. The massive percussive tingle of Schneider TM’s past is scaled back here; the song’s quiet backdrop complements the dazed country turns of Lambchop’s original by coating it with a fine technological veneer. In this hair-split renewal, Schneider TM succeeds in applying his trades to musical kin, eschewing new directions in dance-funk for more comfortable surroundings. The subtlety works in spades.
Of course, given the inherent thorns on the remix rose, we shouldn’t be surprised by Schneider TM’s failures here. The genre is based upon reconstruction, not merely of the work under mix but of one’s own past releases. Attempts to readjust one’s sound often remind of skills taken for granted, forcing reclamations of those talents already understood. Progress, even in pop music, is not always an advance. On much of Reconfigures, Schneider TM doesn’t reach beyond his grasp as much as beside it. Assuming he focuses on the glimmering pop music glimpsed here, and leaves Prince to strew the dancefloor in glitter, there’s still reason for hope. And, I for one, pray that’s the case; Beck already made Midnite Vultures, and we don’t need another Terence Trent D’Arby.