Junkie XL's "Off the Dancefloor"
“Synthesized,” Junkie XL (Nettwerk Music)
These days there could well be more electronic-based remixers/producers than any other type of instrumentalist, and they could all learn a few things from Junkie XL.
The Dutch musician, aka Tom Holkenborg, is top pedigree, working with A-list artists including Justin Timberlake and Madonna, doing soundtrack work for such films as “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception” and creating music for a slew of EA videogames.
His work ethic has prompted him to also knock out his sixth album in 15 years, “Synthesized,” which reveals some of his keys to success: Give the audience what they want, but better than they expect and with more variety than they would have imagined.
“Synthesized” excels at the requisite primal, instrumental-oriented stirrers, like the rousing electro-percussive “Bonzai” and the aggressive “Twilight Trippin” founded on pounding beats and wordless chants. Plus the title track is a cheeky blend of Phillip Glass and “Voulez-Vous”-era ABBA that erupts into a modern juggernaut. “Kill the Band” likewise offers an abrupt shift, grinding along until a vocal interrupts with, “Now let’s kill that (expletive) band!” — at which point the song launches into hails of machine-gun riffs.
The Dutchman isn’t one to linger in a fixed groove, so he recruits vocalist Isis Salam to issue a call to dancing in the insinuating drive of “Off the Dancefloor,” Datarock’s Fredrik proves the perfect mouthpiece for the winking heavy-metal anthem “Gloria,” and Junkie XL uses a spoken-word except from Timothy Leary as a counterpoint to the propulsive, full-bodied space journey “Leave Behind Your Ego” (“The goal of this trip is ecstasy ... It is necessary to undo the bonds which chain you to the external world.”)
Meanwhile, “Synthesized” is bookended by calming cinematic pulses and hums on opener “Take Off on Molly’s E” and closer “The Art of Luxurious Intergalactic Time Travel.”
It doesn’t always work — Tears For Fears’ Curt Smith is an ill-fitting vocalist for the deep churning “When Enough Is Not Enough,” for instance — but it’s impressive how often “Synthesized” is riveting.
Rating (five possible): 4