The first hint that Electronicat’s 21st Century Toy exists on some seriously strange outré plane comes screaming at you from the cover.
It’s the face of the artist, the unfortunately named Fred Bigot, fused onto the body of a guitar. The colors — vivid greens and reds pasted on a bright yellow background — wrap around his sickly, white profile. He looks stoned, paranoid and ready to rock.
The setup is perfect. Maybe too perfect. Can the tunes measure up to that kind of inspired visual lunacy?
Yes. God, yes.
21st Century Toy is a glam-pop gem: not exactly rock or dance, but a product of an invasive electronic movement beginning to crowd into their margins. Based in Paris, but sharing files with producers in Vienna and Cologne, Electronicat is one of the original Schaffelfieber artists, a loose collection of fringe performers whose songs are compiled on two albums for Germany’s influential Kompakt label.
Schaffelfieber might be Europe’s first true post-unification music. It sprawls across the sonic spectrum, pulling together elements of French and German techno, British pop and rave, and fuzzed-up and nasty electro that lurks in all corners of the continent. In the United States, fellow travelers include artists on Ann Arbor’s Ghostly International and Detroit’s Ersatz Audio labels.
But even in that eclectic company, Electronicat manages to stand apart.
Take “Gitarkatze,” one of 12 tracks included (nine if you buy the vinyl). It begins with swampy guitar, mixed down and played at a speed intended to crawl slowly up your spine. Enter pedal effects, a body-shaking digital bass line, screeching, hissing synth breaks and something that sounds like a banjo plucking away amid the chaos. Oh, yeah: And there are vocals. Mostly sung in German, it all can be reduced to “wah, wah, wah,” which Electronicat and guest Catriona Shaw drowsily repeat throughout. Ridiculous.
“Tonight” bustles like an outtake from T. Rex’s Slider, circa 1972; “Frisco Bay” is the kind of impure rock-disco trash that recalls Plastic Bertrand; and “Baby You,” a burst of shimmery, straight-ahead noise-pop, sounds like Suicide, the No Wave pioneers who’ve left an everlasting imprint on French electronica.
Now discard those references. They are only useful in getting some kind of handle on one of the year’s most eccentric and entertaining records. By the time it all falls apart at the end, you are blissfully confused, not exactly sure where you’ve been or where you’re going. You just want it to happen to you again.
E-mail Walter Wasacz at firstname.lastname@example.org.