- When history looks back at the crossover between indie and electronic dance music in 2007, it is likely to fixate on Justice, LCD Soundsystem or - god forbid - The Klaxons. This is a shame because the whole jizzfest over "dance rock" in general passes over what is good about indie in the first place (i.e., romantic miserablism) and instead focuses on what it is terrible at (i.e., having fun). The result is a weird hybrid of a genre that tries to both sneer and smile at the same time, not exactly the most attractive of facial expressions, nor the easiest to pull off convincingly.
But that's not the only way to make indie dance music, as 'This Bliss' proves. Less sneers than bashful smiles, Pantha Du Prince's second album sounds nothing like indie at all on first listen: there are no vocals, and unlike his previous LP Diamond Daze there are no guitars. Instead the palette is entirely electronic: it's a record made from soft Detroit synths, swelling strings, and washes of chimes not a million miles away from the post-rave ambient music made by the likes of The Orb. But appearances can be deceptive. Spiritually, if not sonically, 'This Bliss' is much more indie than today's grimacing dance rock buzz bands could ever be: there are no calculated attempts at "fun" here, instead it is a record almost completely bathed in a wide-eyed, wistful romanticism, a 'tude which has historical roots not in the daft noddy music of EMF and its spawn (i.e, modern dance rock) but in - shockingly - actual honest-to-god back in the day indie. If Justice are EMF and LCD Soundsystem are Jesus Jones, then Pantha Du Prince is the perennially underachieving, indie-defining likes of Ride. It is made with different machines in a different century, but it's wholly cut from the same cloth: there is the same sweeping sadness, the same killer chord changes, the same fringe hanging over the eyes (And no, I'm not imagining this because Pantha somehow hits a spot softened up in my teenage brain by Mark Gardener - Check it out: Ride is Henrik Weber's best friend on MySpace.) Which is to say, this is sensitive boy floppy fringe music of the highest order.
And there's the rub. Even the drunkest of students never did quite manage to dance to Ride, romantic wistfulness being probably the least clublike state of being ever. In that sense, Pantha Du Prince is indie par excellence. The few times I've seen him play out in the clubs, frankly, it hasn't exactly worked. Sure, if you're a fan, you'll be happy to sway a bit and drink in the lushness, but the dancers around you won't. It's a marketing problem Pantha shares with many of his Dial brethren (Or as a bald hardman of techno once eloquently put it at a Lawrence gig: "Hey Mr. DJ, my pill is coming on! Play some fucking dance music!") but it's particularly acute in the case of Hendrik Weber: Pantha's music is simply not spiky enough to get limbs moving, it's full-bodied rather than skeletal, the music doesn't erupt out of the beat but instead washes through it. The upside, of course, is that this makes 'This Bliss' great for home listening. We've all suffered through techno "albums" that don't bear much scrutiny on anything smaller than a Funktion 1, and 'This Bliss' is the antidote to that: it's a fully formed longplayer that is custom built for staying home rather than going out.
The highlights, 'Asha', 'Eisbaden', 'Walden 2', 'Urlichten' and 'Saturn Strobe', are quite simply beautiful, and they go places, too. Like Isolée, Pantha Du Prince excels at developing one refrain, and then suddenly catching you unawares by turning it into something else entirely. It's a trick that he couldn't quite pull off on Diamond Daze - grafting The Chills onto minimal techno on 'Circle Glider' was particularly odd - but on 'This Bliss' he nails the effect completely: The bass workout 'Walden 2' suddenly bursts into ringing pop, the contented groove of 'Urlichten' curiously sprouts another limb five minutes in, and 'Eisbaden' mixes between verse and chorus as if by crossfader. But perhaps the best track on the album is 'Saturn Strobe', a weepy epic made from cowbells, classical violins and reverb which generously opens out into something much, much more than the sum of its parts.
To be fair, it's not all good news. 'This Bliss' comes a little unstuck when it strays from the true path of melodic wooziness into drier techno territory such as on 'Moonstruck' and 'White Out', which is like a Troy Pierce track you could bring home to Mum, or on 'Steiner Im Flug', a minor piece which pretty but not very intriguing. But these are small flaws. As the album format slowly gurgle down the drain, five or six lovely tracks will do.
'This Bliss' came out in January, but that shouldn't matter. The truth is you won't hear a better album this year, indie dance or not. There's a timelessness to it that really deserves a wider audience. But how much chance is there of that? History is written by the winners, not obscure electronic musicians from Hamburg. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign theme tune for 2008 is 'Right Here, Right Now' not 'Dreams Burn Down'. But you don't have to vote for that. In 2027, when your kids read in Rolling Stone that the frozen gurn of James Murphy pogoing to 'Tomorrow Never Knows' on E was the defining moment of indie dance, you can tut tut and slip them this album.
2 Saturn Strobe
3 Walden 2
7 White Out
9 Steiner Im Flug
10 Seeds Of Sleep