For the life of me, I can’t quite remember what prompted me to start investigating dance music right after I graduated from college. None of my friends at the time were even remotely interested in the genre, yet I found myself curiously compelled to start investigating those sounds. Maybe it was my nascent love of a good, pulsing beat (one that wasn’t tied to the gospel music played at the church I was attending); I don’t really know – I just remember scouring the techno sections at Virgin Records, Sam Goody, and Hasting’s for something that remotely looked interesting. After much trial and error (and a few conversations with employees who had decent suggestions), I happened across a few artists I liked, and things expanded from there.
The music of Gunslinger reminds me of those heady days a decade ago when I first happened across the music of Paul Oakenfold, John Digweed, and Moby. Early Volumes 1 is powered primarily by a neo-classic house music aesthetic – synth lead lines that twinkle and bubble into the stratosphere, sexy bass thumps, and a four-on-the-floor feel that encourages people to dance long into the night. Cuts like “Run For Your Life,” “Who Have You Been,” and “Gravity” are quite kinetic and call to mind the best communal aspects of rave culture. And it doesn’t hurt that the vocals have a dark, slinky rock-n-roll edge to them.
However, the project as a whole is a rather average entrant into the house music milieu. Even though the music is fun and up-tempo, it’s lacking in depth, complexity, and subtlety. As long as the energy is driving and the tempo is being pushed forward, the music is enjoyable, in that it’s good for dancing without being too special. But when things slow down to attempt some mid-tempo jams (as in “Unbreakable” and “Variation”), obnoxious arena rock tendencies of the Muse-ish variety come to the fore. Personally, I don’t want a theatrical vocalist to preen atop a techno beat; I want him or her to get in, make a solid contribution to the mood created by the music, and then leave so that the DJ can tweak those vocals to enhance the music.
When this album is at its best, it conjures up some very positive memories of the tunes and artists that help break open electronic music for me. Unfortunately, Early Volumes 1 falls flat when it tries to marry a good dance groove to a blasé electro-rock song, and the sum is much less than its parts. I’d imagine that Gunslinger is able to sidestep these issues when he performs live, probably because he’d step firmly into the role of DJ (and not pop singer), so any time I want to throw a party featuring good turn-of-the-century techno, I’ll know exactly who to call.
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