In the wake of Daft Punk’s mainstream success with “Random Access Memories”, there’s been a noticeable pattern with electronic dance artists refining their sound in an attempt to enhance their exposure. Their quest for a larger audience often finds them gravitating towards the sounds that influenced them as artists. In Daft Punk’s case, they reinterpreted the late 70’s and early 80’s disco sound that had an influence on their classic EDM songs- as much as Basement Jaxx’s “Junto” took a deeper look at 90’s house music as a source of inspiration. Jazztronik is the latest in the line of these artists who’s looking to broaden their appeal by bringing a renewed sense of freshness to the jazz-dance sound they’ve become known for over the years. Much like “Random”, this new sonic execution means more organic instrumentation being pushed to the forefront, a greater emphasis on songwriting and a relieved sense of artistry that the group is able to explore through a number of experimental tracks.
Compared to the up-tempo flair of many of Jazztronik’s previous efforts, the songs on “Keystone” are much moodier and contemplative in tone. There are dance beats on the album, but Jazztronik provides ten carefully produced tracks that take listeners on an emotional journey beneath the surface of programmed 4/4 beats. Take the opening track “Now” and how the piano chords emphasize the lyrics of despair and once the hook hits you, the strings glimmers a shade of light that awakens the day like a 5:00 AM sunrise. Self-empowering songs are nothing new, but one that can be convincingly moving without sounding too sappy is significant in itself-especially coming from a dance group. “Lost Melody” is a minimally produced gem in which a person seeks to make sense of their world when it’s been disrupted in a tragic way. And the organic broken-beat drum rhythm that drives the song is perfect for its theme since people are often in search for a voice of reason when their world has been shattered or fragmented- rather it’s through a mass shooting, natural disaster, etc. Even the instrumental pieces tell a story as “The City Beyond” illustrates the essence of having your sense of joy held in bondage as you’re clawing for survival in an unforgiving metropolitan jungle that seems to have the average person on edge in trying to keep up. The band even take on trap beats with “Peach Boy” as the whiny synth and that sludge drum programming makes the spoken narrative of revenge sound more menacing than anything dirty south rappers put out in the mid-2000’s. But all of “Keystone” isn’t as morbid as the arrangements might suggest. “Parade!” is an extravagant drama free celebration that doesn’t sound as hokey as it could have been. It works because it swings the mood dramatically from gloomy to happy in an instant- as if a grand celebration is trying to heal one's emotional sores in an effort to pull them back from the edge before going into freefall. “WARP (The Warp Riders adventures on the Dancefloor)” is the most out there track on this album as it runs through a succession of dance grooves and breaks for an x amount of seconds for almost seven minutes. The breaks sound random, but the concept works in a freaky sort of way. The only song that sounds a bit out of place on this album is “Splash the Blue”, which is intended to be the “Get Lucky” moment here. It’s has a catchy, radio friendly pop-dance feel, but it casts a bit too much light into the grey atmosphere of the album. “Get Lucky” worked well for Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams because it was not only an accessible single that crossed over, but it blended in perfectly with the overall tone of RAM as a whole. “Keystone” is more serious-minded in nature and a song like “Splash the Blue”, while nicely produced, sounds rather lightweight in comparison to the rest of the tracks.
For me, Keystone is a candidate for album of the year. Many make a case for more of current commercial music to bring back the old days of songwriting and production, but the beauty of “Keystone” is its ability to sound next level without sounding overly nostalgic. One will be hard pressed to listen to this album and feel like they’re in a French-Discotheque in the late 70’s, but they will feel like this is the sound of today, and could possibly be the sound of tomorrow if it has widespread influence. The song ideas are conventional, but Jazztronik found a way to put a unique spin on these ideas with a seemingly fresh sound. Hopefully, this will be the album that helps make Jazztronik a household name in dance music. My advice is to see if you can download this album from iTunes or a reputable streaming site since only a crazy collector like me will pay a $31.00 import cost for the CD- considering it’s not available domestically
This is a guest review by Patrick Frierson. Patrick is an avid music lover and collector. He’s spent the past five years or so collecting nothing but the finest in vintage recordings that range from well-known classics to underground gems. Hopefully, you’ll find his reviews to be inspiring enough to make you want to groove out to some of the coolest albums ever recorded. As a rule, he doesn’t write negative reviews, so if he takes the time and effort to review a recording, he genuinely loves it. His passion ensures that he will place a great deal of care and detail into analyzing albums and sharing the info with the readers of The Penman Post. He hopes you all enjoy it as much as he enjoyed sharing his musical experience with you.