ARTS

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March 7, 2003

Plug me in, let me dance

For a genre that is intrinsically lively, denoting vigorous activity by its very name, dance music is notoriously lifeless. Too many producers of the stuff are comfortable to sit back with some vocalist hack and let the 808 do its thing; not enough are interested in pushing the audio envelope while making people "shake it fast." Many recent releases from the Force Inc. family of record labels have opted for a sound that straddles the line between the sacred and the profane--between art and dance, that is. But HÃ¥kan Lidbo has opted for a sound that is more accessible than anything yet released in this wave of glitch-bop, and has not, remarkably, bastardized the pupal mini-genre.

On Data 80, Lidbo stakes out an area on the musical terrain somewhere between synth pop, disco, and the revivalism of Les Rhythmes Digitales and electroclash acts like Ladytron. He uses a vocoder liberally on tracks like "Love Was Made for Two" and "You Are Always on My Mind," but theses are of the Daft Punk, not the Cher, variety. Don't be mistaken: Data 80 is not a guilty pleasure. I don't enjoy it from an ironic distance. Au contraire, it really gets to me, in my toes, my hips, even, at times, in my heart.

The first four tracks are all dance tracks, irresistible little gems that sparkle all the more for the listener's understanding that Lidbo, had he so wished, could have made the sort of confounding, abstract, "intelligent" music that we all listen to with our cerebra, rather than our bodies. But Lidbo paces the album very well, making the "requisite" down-tempo tracks as worthy as their predecessors.

Another strength of Data 80 is the fact that its referentiality doesn't make it sound tired or dated. Instead, tracks like "The Boy Who Grew Up to Be a Boy" make tribute to the '80s and to video game music without sounding like a rehash.

While I truly love Daft Punk's Discovery, I think I respect Data 80 more because of the progressive elements Lidbo adds to the traditional mix. An example would be the extended mix of the above song, which sounds as loungey as Daft Punk's "Nightlife," but incorporates a light static and a more unconventional wet beat than the Daft Punk track.

"Don't Believe Me" is the most lyrically interesting track, shifting from the innocence of earlier songs to a commentary on mainstream dance music. Or perhaps Lidbo is being self-reflexive when his guest vocalist sings "these lyrics have no meaning/and the silly melody revealing/there is really nothing to be said/don't believe a word/I'm just singing what I'm told/there's no deeper meaning/but to get the single sold."

Whether Data 80 is a sinister attempt to embarrass sallow technophiles like myself on the dance floor (and get us to shell out cash in the process), or a kind-hearted endeavor to show us the electric sun, I can't say. I dig this stuff whether it's earnest or not.