NDO 2013

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No hustle, only groove: ASIA’s ivory rider takes a PANIC ROOM chanteuse to the dance floor.

Thinking of Geoff Downes as a pop element in BUGGLES, YES and ASIA, progressive – to various degrees – collectives, leads to a certain misconception for the keyboard player has always been an ensemble in his own right, which he sets to demonstrate once in a while under the guise NEW DANCE ORCHESTRA. To demonstrate rather than prove, because his albums are more essays on elaborate programming than a showcase of finger prowess, with an additional allure of compositional experimentation on covers and original pieces that run from “Video Killed The Radio Star” to quasi-symphonies. Not for nothing those previous efforts, purely instrumental or featuring an array of star guests, bore the artist’s full name, Geoffrey, but “Electronica” discards it altogether without ever becoming faceless.

This time the face, or vox humana as Geoff may put it, is Anne-Marie Helder, a former singer with MOSTLY AUTUMN and now a driving force of PANIC ROOM whose latest work made her one of the best prog ladies. Here, though, Helder and Downes unleash their groovy selves while sophistication takes a back seat to rear its in the least expected places as it does in “Walking Through The Fire” which shares one of its hooks with ASIA’s “Go” whereas the likes of “Shine On” embroider the titular texture with a well-measured piano and unobtrusive, if insistent, beats. Think PET SHOP BOYS, then, or ABBA, as the female voice lends tracks such as “Jinx” a different – reserved and irresistible – kind of emotional load, and wait! Is it an acoustic guitar strum that ushers in the discotheque moves of “Movin’ On” – mid-tempo, albeit sexual? In their turn, keyboards sound relaxed, not willing to fill the spaces in “Rainbow’s End” that offer enough room for chiming in.

There’s also a different sort of pomp under the faux-orchestral sweep of “Hanging By A Thread” or deceptive simplicity of “Love Is Not Enough” which packs harmonies tight to rein in the desperate longing burning within its gloss, while “Remember The Day” pitches sweet nostalgia and suggestively whispers in the ear of those who adore the ’80s innocent motions. Yet this record is as modern as it gets, and its “I’m alive” motto blows off any notion of electronic music as a life-lacking effort. So yes, it’s pop – short for “popular” – one of the highest standards.


February 11, 2014

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