Nobody likes robots that turn out to be human after all. Apparently we want our machines to rough us up with mechanistic precision, which might explain why Daft Punk's flesh-and-blood cyborg rock has lately been supplanted by the liquid nitrogen techno/electro of Vitalic, the shape-shifting Robert Patrick to DP's aging Ahhnuld. Ukrainian ex-furrier Pascal Arbez's debut full-length updates the French duo's signature sound along a familiar trajectory, making it harder, better, faster, stronger. OK Cowboy ditches Daft Punk's disco fetish and hints at early-'90s hardcore's faster tempos and blocks of seething electronics, with tracks like "Poney Pt. 1" buzzing like an Underground Resistance track spinning in an airplane hangar. Though abrasive material from his popular Poney EP and Fanfares makes up nearly half of this album, melancholy new tracks like "The Past" prevent OK Cowboy from turning into 53 minutes of jackboot soul.
Given Vitalic's reputation for anthemic stompers, fans were piqued when the scathing "You Prefer Cocaine" was left off the OK Cowboy track list, while Fanfares' shuffling organ ditty "Wooo" made the cut. Never mind that "Wooo" works better as an album track, cushioning the space between the spiraling-out-of-control synths of "La Rock 01" and the new wave pastiche of "My Friend Dario." Vitalic asserts his monolithic presence through simplicity. In a filter workout like "Newman," the riff stands alone against the beat. There are no arpeggiated countermelodies, just crunchy guitar and a squelching synth working practically in unison. Instead of polyrhythms dancing around each other, the drums stomp out the beat with monomaniacal determination. Efficient simplicity marks even the most subdued tracks on the album. The vocal that hovers over "Repair Machines," for instance, stays well clear of the melody and the crack of the snare drum. If OK Cowboy weren't so loud, you might be tempted to call it minimal.
Thankfully, Vitalic also steers clear of the tight-assed rhetoric that often comes with being deliberately straightforward. On "No Fun," Brigitte (the product of a speech synthesis program) deadpans, "No guitars, no strobes, no leather, no fun" over a screech that puts LCD Soundsystem's "Yeah" to shame, while "My Friend Dario" crams its guitars and drums into an impossibly tiny cage, making them fight it out for frequency space while an unnamed singer narrates a car crash with a dispassionate sneer. The car explodes; we cheer. Robots 1, Humanity 0.
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