Electro Nouveau, Soul Sessions 2

by Doug Rule
Published on January 9, 2003, 12:00am | Comments

Electro Nouveau
Various Artists

Soul Sessions 2
Various Artists
Giant Step Records

Has this happened to you? A friend asks you to recommend your favorite CD of the year. You give it some thought and two-handfuls of worthy examples spring to mind, so you cover your bases by letting your friend choose from among them. He thanks you, ready for purchase. The next day as your CD changer skips over to a dusty, little-played but much-loved disc, your mistake hits you as the jazzy, infectious rhythm kicks in. D'oh! Do you admit your mistake? Or do you let it go, unconcerned with the knowledge that one sale of an under-appreciated CD will be lost? Last week in this space, we identified the High and Low Tides of Soundwaves 2002.

But see, we made a mistake. In our review of 2002, we breezed right by two of the year's best dance compilations. Moonshine's Electro Nouveau collection is one. With tracks from electro pacesetters Felix da Housecat, Ladytron, Miss Kittin, Freezepop and others, this album actually bests Felix's accomplished Kittenz and the Glitz album in fully representing the dance fad whose time has come and gone... well, actually it has just arrived in Top 40-land (with assists from Madonna, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake and Nelly).

In danceland electro may be waning, and Chicks on Speed certainly sound tired of delivering ironic, vapid “Euro Trash Girl” lyrics. Still, Electro Nouveau shows electro is still hip and happening with lively tracks that evoke the ‘80s in more than just a “look what sounds we can make with machines!” approach. But that is electro's overriding characteristic, and nearly every song recalls a particular genre-defining ‘80s pop act, be it Thomas Dolby, Thompson Twins, Pet Shop Boys or Nena.

The album features tracks focused, at least in the titles, on fears of the age: “Neon Rain,” “Spaceship,” “La Invasion,” “The End Starts Today.” And there are those concerned only with the carefree silliness that pervaded 80s pop. Laptop's “Greatest Hits” is a rollicking trip through one man's (David Bowie's?) dating history. Producer Steve Levy has achieved something rare here: He's made a Pez-worthy compilation stuffed with consistently flavorful candies filling out two whole discs, without the least bit of a sugar overdose.

Giant Step Records has also achieved a rare feat with its Soul Sessions 2. It may be a little too slow-burning metaphysical at first for much dancing. But by record's end, it proves to be a dazzling chill-out and soul-house super-value combo. It's at a rolling boil by the time former Fugees' collaborator John Forte and Robyn Springer beautifully “Harmonize” together in their stunningly realized duet of a couple's swan song. Then when you're not looking for it, you find true “Love” that lasts -- Koop's remix seduces you with Latin jazz-inspired bass strings and xylophone before you even hear Rosey's hypnotizingly springy voice rumba-ling down this roller-coaster rhythmic ride.

Boy George didn't assemble this disc (Giant Step CEO Maurice Bernstein takes that credit), but as with the Boy's recent Chill-Out Mix, you'll hear eclectic musical influences drawn from old-school funk, R&B, jazz and gospel. Giant Step Records is known in the biz for helping identify up-and-coming soul music singers. Soul Sessions 2 is perfect to linger over as we wait for the next albums from Jill Scott, Massive Attack and Jamiroquai -- just three artists Giant Step has helped establish in the U.S. And once Soul Sessions 3 arrives in another few months, we'll take note of it right away. We've learned our lesson.

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