emember when you last heard an album of electronic music that blew your mind, like Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld or Richard D. James Album? No? Remember when the scene produced a record that just brought the funk, like Discovery or Metro Area? NO? How about when it gave us an album that covered every emotional angle, while simultaneously bringing the funk AND blowing your mind? YES! Of course you do—it was three years ago. It was Melody A.M., by Royksopp.
Lucky Hands, Thomas Brinkmann's newest record, will do none of the above. Oh, it isn't bad in the least. In fact it's quite lovely. Dynamite. There are some beautiful textures, some great combinations of fast-moving synths and slower-moving other synths, and a female voice (Tusia Beridze's) that intones over muddy downtempo beats through the middle portion of the album. It's all very nice. The titles make no sense, it's German, it comes in a pretty digipack with cover art of a chunk taken from the corner of some abstract landscape painting and it most definitely will make you cool amongst shaven-headed boys with round black-rimmed glasses.
It begins promisingly enough: "Drops," with its advertisement sample and staid but pleasing tech-house stomp, is a fine album opener. Then, things get a little wobbly on "Work," a solid dubby track with a goofy melody line that sounds like a fragment from Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" retooled for Jock Jams. "Maschine," featuring German spoken word vocals by Brinkmann himself, has a tasty, shuffling, almost EBM-feel to it, and leads nicely into "Jacknot," a twitchy combination of rubbery percussion, oddly detuned machine-esque noises and muffled metal plate banging. It is one of the few outright successes on Lucky Hands, mainly due to its oddity: I imagine it soundtracking a happily-running factory of pipes, steam whistles, overflowing funnels and rotating candy-presses stamping out gaily-colored squares of pink, orange and aqua fudge.
Having settled in to a steady, if leftfield, pace, we slow down a bit with the stuttering mid-tempo title track, which brings in the vocals of Beridze for some offbeat, free-associative wordplay. It's one of the most enjoyable moments on the album, but unfortunately it also signals the beginning of a rather depressing tactic that Brinkmann employs to a teeth-gritting degree for the entire mid-portion of the album. Beridze's vocals, fine in that rather monotone Gaulic/ Germanic way, are dominant in the next two songs, the absolutely wretched Morrissey cover ("The More You Ignore Me...") and the nice "Margins." The tempo, meanwhile, slows to a near-crawl and the dub influence that informs Brinkmann's more dancehall-geared moments with a vibrancy and warmth comes to the forefront—which would be fine if it weren't dub denuded of its psychedelic trappings and power to surprise. What you are left with is a sterile sexuality that becomes only slightly more bearable once the vocals are absent ("Thirty2" and the somewhat redeemable Cash Money-esque "B-Day").
Three tracks before the end of the album, Brinkmann trades in these tepid downtempo experiments for "C Black R" a metallic, almost reggae-like beat with more vocals by Beridze that suddenly shifts to and from three minutes of shiny bumping. The treat tucked away between this and the finale is "R 8 Gordini," (catchy title, T.) a funky electro-house track that reminds me how ready I am for that next Bangkok Impact album to come out. Then, oh then, comes "Charleston," which is exactly what you think it is. It is nothing more than a straight-ahead Django Reinhardt performance of his signature tune (and if it isn't him, it's a disgraceful soundalike) with a backbeat stapled awkwardly on top of it. It's kind of fun in its way, but it clearly is intended as no more than a novelty, and stuck on the end of a mish-mash album that has had nothing of the whimsical in it, it sticks out like leg warmers on a leopard.
With techno producers who lean at a slightly experimental angle but still make beat-driven tracks, I usually find myself wishing they would veer more towards accessibility. Thomas Brinkmann engenders the opposite response—he excels when he tweaks the formula just a little bit further. This plays to his strongest virtue: he crafts individual sounds with as much depth and detail as most artists bring to entire songs. The songs themselves work best when all of these carefully-sculpted clangs, beeps, and whizzes are held in uneasy stasis, as though the meticulous arrangement were due to fall apart while we experienced it. When Brinkmann moves towards smoothness and pop-like moves, he draws attention away from the sounds themselves and towards the lack of real ideas contained in their presentation. Putting together an enjoyable album of music that sounds its strongest on the microcosmic level is a hedgy notion at best. Without exceptional songwriting, it is an impossibility.
A great electronic music album should be like a great film—first drawing you in with the unique thrills you haven't seen/ heard before, then gradually opening up (while keeping you firmly in your seat) to reveal meanings of a more universal nature. With the medium of the twelve-inch single still widely available to the hardcore devotee, an album is a chance, no, an opportunity, to spread the gospel to the world at large. An artist as obviously blessed with talent and imagination as Thomas Brinkmann cannot afford to waste the time of the devout and the non-believer alike with something as half-baked and uneven as Lucky Hands.