When it emerged at the beginning of the month that Roland pioneer Ikutaro Kalehashi had passed, tributes poured in from all corners of the music world; it’s proved a particularly fitting time for Joe Goddard to drop his very own homage to retro electro.
“When these Japanese guys were creating the Jupiter 8 or the 808, they didn’t have a clue about the music that would eventually be made on it”, Goddard asserted while gushing over his favourite synths for The Guardian a couple of years back. “They were originally conceived for people in bands to make a bassline and play along with. They had no idea how important that 808 drum machine was going to be to modern music”.
He’s not wrong. Kalehashi’s 808 legacy continues to backbone a host of contemporary, forward-thinking bangers from Kanye West’s "Love Lockdown", to Daft Punk’s "Doin’ it Right", to Beyoncé’s "Drunk in Love".
But instead of harnessing the fruits of the past to steer towards something new, Electric Lines represents the crisscrossing wires that swerve through a glut of genres. Like a kid in a candy shop, Goddard has indulged in a selection splashed with dazzling colour; but the results are pic’n’mixed.
The poppy opening section is, at times, teeth-rottingly sweet. Homogenised opener "Ordinary Madness" feels too safe, and whilst "Home" has a zestier 70s-disco-funk coating, it's more carbon copy than referential to the likes of Wild Cherry and Chic. There’s nothing wrong with embracing the polished and accessible route, but any unambitious songwriting will be exposed this way.
That said, Goddard cranks up his creativity and experimentation after the palette-cleansing "Lasers" – a headfirst blast into a battlefield of cosmic techno. "Children" is the highlight, as an initial lulling baby-mobile arpeggio suddenly bursts into frantic and swirling textures.
The late entrance of Goddard’s Hot Chip buddy, Alexis Taylor, forms a pensive moment, and the albums most mellow – albeit oddball - chapter. “Everyone’s upgrading their hardware / Upgrading to all new components… Everytime I hear something special / Its replacement is something I fear”, he croons on the penultimate title-track. You can’t help but feel this record is Goddard’s way of immortalising his favourite sounds in an electronic time capsule. Everything gets replaced, but Electric Lines won’t be remembered as a building block towards something; it’s an exploration of historical connections within the genre’s evolution.
Only at its conclusion does the album’s concept look forward; "Music is the Answer" is a conclusive Brexit antidote to the ‘fear of distrust and outsiders’. It’s a song that aptly nutshells the full-lengths composition – glorious production, sparkling pools of shimmering synths, but melody and Garageband-pre-set beats that are ultimately forgettable.
Whilst Hot Chip’s (still Goddard’s main focus) killer-blow hooks are punched home with welterweight strength, Electric Lines’ feel faint and lightweight. That’s not to say it’s disappointing enough to knock Goddard from his lofty plateaux between the underground and the mainstream – it’s just that his array of past triumphs should leave us expecting a little more.