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White Noise: L-Vis 1990 – Neon Dreams

Friday, 14 October 2011

L-Vis 1990 – Neon Dreams

Forever You (EP Version)

Lost In Love

James Connolly’s rise to dance importance has been close to meteoric, championing the club night cum label Night Slugs all the way to the top. Night Slugs has spent the last year releasing some of the most interesting and forward-thinking dance singles around, but Connolly stated early on that his debut album as L-Vis 1990 was going to be different. Signed to a sub-imprint of Island, aimed at telling the story of the last year of his life, here he has created a homage to digital pop that sounds like a cleaned up 90s French disco more than anything else. It raises the complex question of throwback that has been bandied around a lot recently: to what extent are you creating new music (i.e. drawing influences from the past), and to what extent are you merely lazily rehashing what has come before? The answer will differ from artist to artist, but it’s not the only uncomfortable question that this album raises.

Connolly is clearly a talented producer, as can be heard with ease in the woozily brilliant Forever You (included on an EP earlier this year) which could become a crossover hit if given the chance. Sadly, it’s the only track that can verifiably be called excellent on this album, and it came out almost a year ago. Elsewhere the largely instrumental tracks shine more than anything else; such as The Beach, a dark and pacey number with a sugary synth-pop tinge. He hits on another winner with the tight Illusions, in which hollow beats underpin meaty bass and a superb breakdown. The problem here is consistency, for every Beach there’s an overworked One More Day, and although the anaesthetized vocals suit the sparse and broody Play It Cool to a T, the exact same over-synthetic feel is the downfall of the too-clean Shy Light and make tracks like Feel The Void verge on self-parodic cheese.

The cheese factor also leads to the downfall of more vocal-heavy tracks, for example the inane lyrics of Lost In Love distract from its simple, clean charms. Likewise the overtly cinematic opener Vague Flashes is rendered ludicrous by the terrible writing (“Vague flashes that trickle over the galaxies for aeons / rapid eye movements laced in memories with neon”). The whole album makes you wonder why a greater effort wasn’t made to find more soulful and interesting vocalists, and why Connolly couldn’t pick between the underground and the pop mainstream, because he ends up fluttering weightlessly between the two: nowhere near enough grit for the underground and too restrained for the pop crowd.

Despite these problems, there are a few things that I think most reviewers have overlooked to the credit of this LP. The sound quality is lovely with warm honeyed synths, and the tracks are quite well sequenced and mixed together to allow for a diverse and easy listen. Another thought that occurs to me is that in essentially creating a digital pop/ disco throwback fusion, L-Vis is slightly ahead of the current trend. Dance music is slowing down now, and is now more than ever heavily recalling the enormous genres of the past, such as acid house, electro and disco. In this respect Connolly is looking to the future, but unfortunately a fair amount of these tracks fall more on the side of cheap euro-trash disco than the best of the genre. The issue that really surfaces is while a lot of contemporary producers look to past genres for inspiration, this album takes French electro and doesn’t really add anything new to the formula whatsoever, leaving most of the tracks sounding clean but dated. When they do sound fresh, such as on the meaty and intense Cruisin, it sounds good but not good enough to pick L-Vis out of the crowd.

It’ll be clear to anyone with a set of ears that this is nothing like any of Night Slugs’ output to date. And that’s okay, Connolly has admirably gone out to try and do something different. The problem is, this LP reaches towards pop, it reaches towards dance, it reaches towards throwback, but it doesn’t quite do any of these things consistently well enough to give it any sort of clear appeal. I don’t think Neon Dreams deserves the slating it’s critically received, because it’s an okay album. Some of it is even good, but that’s not what you expect from the head of one of the most interesting and important dance labels out there.


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