What are we talking about when we talk about a dance album? The term itself belies the genre’s history, a legacy of one-off’s generally forgotten in the heat of saturnalia. Dance music’s cogency dries up when considered outside of the listener experience; it’s fun to chew on, but you go elsewhere for metaphor and narrative, right? It’s an assumption that many an artist have tried to flip on its head in recent years, and the latest attempt comes in the form of Joe Goddard’s Electric Lines.
Even if the name doesn’t sound familiar, you’ll be able to place the voice: the same delicate, Elliott Smith-thin vocalizations that haunt the album’s softer, superior second half on songs like “Nothing Moves” and “Electric Lines” have been a part of Hot Chip’s maximalist synthpop for almost two decades. Concerning Goddard’s decision to record independently, a question arises: what separates a Joe Goddard work from that of his band?
A preoccupation with the past, apparently. There’s a lot to unpack on “Lose Your Love,” the album’s second track, starting with the anachronistic dissonance as the trickle of Depeche Mode-era synths is fronted by Goddard’s own Auto-Tuned voice, followed by a series of disco-era lamentations. The song ends with the static-afflicted tones reminiscent of a dial-up connection, evoking a sense of the temporal that lingers for the entire work.
In the album’s first half, Goddard doesn’t stay in one place for too long. “Lasers” contains some of the sonic flittering one would hear soaring around the Paradise Garage. On “Home,” the album finds one in the low end acrobatics of Detroit techno, which offers adequate foundation for a sound that spends most of the album floundering. Unfortunately, the groove is interrupted by entries of rote disco and a grating hook inspired by the era, saccharine cliché masquerading as nostalgia.
An album so self-referencing and self-reflexive at the same time can’t possibly evade the postmodern moniker, and Electric Lines succeeds when its intentions align with its aspirations: the kinds of tonal flourishes you’d expect to eke out of your Sega Genesis on “Children” provide incredible depth to drums that keep time with refreshing austerity.
But for the most part, we get airballs. “Music is the Answer” apes its breathless chorus from Celada’s star turn in Danny Tenaglia’s 1998 vogue house classic of like name, but the end result is rote electronica, bereft of all punch. And even attempts to stray from the formula falter. The 2-step swagger in “Truth is Light” takes on a mash-up quality when married with its sentimentality: “I watch you in the morning as the sunlight rolls in with the new dawn/I saw you in the evening smiling like it was the day you were born.”
The album (somewhat) finds itself towards its end, where Goddard’s sonic explorations and falsetto, paired with simple drum work, are better suited. A particular highlight is “Nothing Moves,” a song residing far from the realm of dance music but one that succeeds in emanating the emotional valences that “Truth is Light” aspires toward. But it’s not enough to redeem an album that suffers from the most honorable kind of flop, crumbling under the weight of its own ambition.
Electric Lines endeavors to add Goddard’s own dimensions to a history that seems to be examined without context. What we get are atomized considerations — hot takes — on decades of dance music from one of its progeny. Does the expanse lend it any credibility? It’s a tension that’s left unresolved, abandoned in favor of what could have been.