OK Cowboy

by: Vitalic

Vitalic has a certain playful mystique that goes beyond Pascal Arbez's invented back story of being a Ukrainian trubcka player and occasional gigolo from a family of sea otter fur traders. In fact, his inability to take anything too seriously, least of all the music he makes, may be the key to Vitalic's appeal. In an interview around the time that his full-length debut, OK Cowboy, was released, Arbez stated that he didn't listen to techno albums "because they are boring," something that can't be said of this witty, stylistically omnivorous album. Acid house, techno, electro, rock, Gypsy melodies, and marches are mixed together into a sound that is both distinctly French (Eastern European pretensions aside, the comparisons to Daft Punk and Air are undeniable) and distinctly Vitalic. OK Cowboy collects Arbez's key singles and EP tracks, including everything from his much-loved 2001 Poney EP. "Poney, Pt. 1" and "Poney, Pt. 2" may still be Vitalic's best moments -- they're as eerie and emotional as they are hard-hitting and kinetic, with vocoders that are oddly scary and hilarious at the same time. The revving "La Rock 01," however, doesn't fare quite as well; while it still moves, the best of OK Cowboy's newer tracks show how much Arbez's style has developed in the years between the EP and this album. "My Friend Dario," the single that preceded OK Cowboy's release, is a standout: equal parts detached synth pop and head-banging hard rock, it's the poppiest Vitalic track yet, with vocals courtesy of Brigitte, a vocal-synthesis program that sounds as robo-sexy as a chick on speed. The video for the single -- which features electroclash fembots and heavy metal heshers meeting up and getting down à la the legendary Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. team-up "Walk This Way" -- nails the song's trashy, giddy vibe. Nearly all of OK Cowboy is just as vivid. "Polkamatic" wouldn't sound out of place at Star Wars' Mos Eisely Cantina, while "The Past"'s blobby analog synths conjure visions of '70s shag carpeting and extruded plastic furniture. As good as interlude-like tracks such as these are, Vitalic's greatest strength still lies in elegantly punishing dancefloor workouts like the excellent "Newman" and "No Fun," another Brigitte-dominated track. Nevertheless, OK Cowboy is a full-fledged album, with a satisfying ebb and flow that shows that Arbez's sound has several sides to it. ~ Heather Phares

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