Plenty of dance music has crossed over into less-specialized music circles through the years, from Inner City and Daft Punk to Justice, LCD Soundsystem, and James Blake. I’m not sure there’s any surefire route to mainstream success, but it seems like many artists who emerge from the underground manage (either intentionally or not) to incorporate something that makes this sometimes alien musical form more familiar to those who don’t spend all their time trawling websites like this one. Some hardcore fans bemoan this muddying of the waters — message boards and blogs are of course rife with variations on the boilerplate “Man, this shit ain’t techno” gripe. But as sites like Pitchfork and rags like Spin continue to devote more words to electronic music, it would seem this dialog between pop and dance isn’t likely to end anytime soon.
John Talabot is the latest artist to be churning up hype both above and below ground, and it’s not hard to see why: the officially anonymous Barcelonan makes dance music whose pleasures seem to extend beyond genre affiliation. But unlike Justice, who basically ran French house through a bank of Marshall stacks until rock kids felt they could safely step on board, Talabot — like Sepalcure and SBTRKT, two recent crossover acts from whatever we’re supposed to call bass music these days — doesn’t really abandon the trappings of the genre from which he sprang. Earlier underground singles like “Sunshine” and “Matilda’s Dream” took the catchiest elements already present in contemporary dance music and amplified them — but only on the sort of scale that registers subconsciously. Talabot’s debut full-length, ƒIN, is the embodiment of this catchiness: we get the sort of euphoric house Talabot is known for in an album as expertly sequenced as any “Best New Music” you’re likely to hear. You’re likely to have a difficult time denying ƒIN‘s myriad pleasures.
Talabot has managed to make a record that feels like a pop LP while sounding a lot like house crates have for the last minute. ƒIN is rife with slowed-down, dreamily lush, and hinting-at-retro beats we’ve heard plenty of recently. But rather than sound trapped in the past, or at least behind a thick Kassem Mosse-ian fog, Talabot cuts right through. Opener, “Depak Ine,” emphasizes that twinge of the sinister occasionally popping up in Talabot’s oeuvre, but by “Destiny,” featuring Pional’s muted and deeply appealing vocal, the sassiness goes straight to our hips and stays there right through to the end. While the producer is commendably consistent with his sound palate — organic percussion, gentle synthesizers, and loops not too far outside The Field’s playbook — he goes all over the place with them: we’re in a humid basement on “Oro Y Sangre,” on a Panda Bear album on “Journeys (feat. Ekhi),” in the cinema for “Last Land” and “Estiu,” maybe even at Sub:stance on album closer, “So Will Be Now…,” (again featuring Pional). But the journey makes sense, the byproduct of a sensitivity for pacing that goes beyond sticking downtempo interludes between bangers. And that’s really the genius of ƒIN, and the reason we’re likely to be hearing a lot about it from beyond the usual sources this year: John Talabot mades a capital-A Album out of club music without stripping it of its “club music-ness,” all while making the feat look enviously simple.