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Booka Shade - The Sun & The Neon Light

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Artist: Booka Shade

Album: The Sun & The Neon Light

Label: Get Physical

Review date: May. 29, 2008

Inching ever closer to crossover success, Booka Shade has been the friendlier – though certainly not smiley – face of contemporary techno. Their arrangements are usually warm and welcoming, hinging on sing-song hooks and a supple, meaty throb. But the third full-length from Arno Kammermeier and Walter Merziger finds the duo self-consciously pursuing an "album" sort of album. Booka's sophomore breakthrough, 2006's Movements, was plenty diverse, but here it seems Kammermeier and Merziger are practicing a more systematic eclecticism to lure the techno-phobic. But The Sun & The Neon Light cheapens many of Booka's trademark thrills and dulls all contrasts for maximum, bland palatability.

A pall falls over the album instantly. Opener "Outskirts" hardly hails from the fringe. Instantly evoking Orbital's big sky electricity, minus the quickfire brainstorms, it layers unfurling curtains of bowed strings over simmering blips and writhing-eel bassline. The duo doesn't allow the track to flow over its initial carpet of matte-finish diodes, opting instead for a snap-crackle snare loop that hints at the familiarity of a live drummer. "Outskirts" represents the common thread of The Sun & The Neon Light: an album full of safe risks, it looks for gravitas in all the wrong places.

But the most obvious change on album No. 3 is the vocals, largely of the lead type. Kammermeier and Merziger trade mic time, but neither voice is tremendously discernible form the other. "Control Me" and "Psychameleon" (the painful portmanteau titles are uncomfortably plentiful here) have the same, Daniel Ash-en, smeared-lipstick snarl that's all hot and no bother, while "Solo City" and "Sweet Lies" croons its banal couplets softly over carved-crystal but dishwasher-safe balladry. Ideally, these would just be high-gloss demos with guide melodies and placeholder lyrics, awaiting the likes of a swaggering Róisín Murphy or a cheerless Sally Shapiro to take them someplace far more memorable.

But what about the rushing, gushing blasts of pop electronics that Booka Shade mastered on Movements? Sun's first two singles are fine and functional. "Karma Car" hardly strays from the pair's tested model and feels more like "That's it?" than "They're back!" It's a new edition "Mandarine Girl" that matches more living-room color schemes. "Charlotte" is bigger, brighter, gaudier. A beachy keen blast of disco-gall, it's oddly prefaced by an electromagnetic swirl, like a free-turning radio dial that only picks up Booka Shade. "We're kids of the eighties," one of the Booka boys says, almost as a preemptive explanation, or apology even, for the brazenly pleasure-principled track to follow.

Battling the anonymity of circuitry and rhythm, The Sun & The Neon Light is full of ambition and devoid of inspiration. Trying to meet somewhere between the dancefloor and the bedroom, between the realm of communal delight and solitary reflection, Booka Shade just wind up in the middle of the road.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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