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DJ Mehdi - Lucky Boy

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Artist: DJ Mehdi

Album: Lucky Boy

Label: Vice

Review date: Jun. 5, 2007

At this point, it’s safe to say most readers will have at least a passing familiarity with some of the salient features of Daft Punk manager Pedro Winter's Ed Banger label: a fixation on early-’90s futurism, letterman jackets, being deliberately French, and massive, macho synth riffs. It’s a relatively young label, having released its first 12” in early 2003, but has already developed a distinct language out of formerly discarded or discredited elements of both rock and dance music. Still, there's no mistaking the music for anything but contemporary: the signifiers might have the patina of early digital, but the speed at which they’re crammed together is very much of the (post-ironic) moment. So much rides on presentation at chez Ed Banger, it's amazing the music has consistently lived up to its own promise of enjoyment.

DJ Mehdi's first full-length, Lucky Boy, appeared in France last year under the aegis of the label; Vice Records released it this year stateside in digital-only format. Though carefully crafted – remarkably, nothing here feels like filler – the record is just solid throughout; only in rare moments does it chance upon something durably great.

But while most of the LP might not surprise on first listen, it's the accumulation of little details that makes an impression. From the strummed acoustic guitar and atmospheric synths of the title track to the strings that open “Saharian Break,” DJ Mehdi has enough space here to wander around the edges of his label’s well-articulated boundaries. Mehdi, whose impressive resume includes producing MC Solaar and soundtrack work with Ryuichi Sakamoto, uses each track to slightly alter his basic production technique, ably pulling off an ESG/Liquid Liquid homage (“Wee Bounce”) and a raunchy 8-bit Prince jam (“Hot o-Momo”).

Being both the artist’s and label’s first full-length, Lucky Boy comes across as tentative. Opener "Busy Being Born" crashes the gate in grand Ed Banger fashion – all deep toms and reversed cymbal rushes – but quickly segues into a finger-picked guitar interlude, an unexpected and effective suspension of Ed Banger’s too-much aesthetic. “I Am Somebody,” a single featuring vox from co-producers Chromeo, blows away the preceding track’s intimation of folktronica: Chromeo’s keening keyboards and vocoder excesses are pared down here, allowing the track the kind of big-shouldered propulsiveness that’s the label’s trademark.

"Pony Rocking," a track featuring Feadz, closes out Lucky Boy’s first half, and is this album's highlight. For all its flash, "Somebody" is simply a canny Chromeo track: thrilling to DJ and dance to, but music that loses much of its flavor after being brought back from a club. The rapid flow of "Pony Rocking," spit almost inaudibly, works in similar fashion to Paper Rad's turbo-nostalgia, drawing us in by linking dimly-remembered pop culture detritus into a fierce edifice, one that’s over before the listener is fully caught up.

For all the obvious strengths, Mehdi fails to truly satisfy. With the higher-profile release of Justice’s full-length on the way, Lucky Boy is proof positive that the label has no problem surpassing the minimum requirements for consistent, interesting albums. Unfortunately, it’s little more.

By Brandon Bussolini

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