HOAXX, an electronic music duo comprised of Johnny Pathan and James Taratt, have had a brief but colorful history. The group formed in mid-2009 in South London, UK with the initial intention of re-creating dance mixes of Indie Rock music popular in London at the time. Thus, their first EP, “Oh is it,” was born in late 2009 from the German record label Vanilla Music. The release contained songs such as “Londres à Paris” and a remix of “Spit the Flame.” The following year showed a large number of EP releases on a multitude of different labels including American label, Dandy Kid. 2010 also saw HOAXX’s first entry on Beatport’s top 30 list for the track “LocoMotive.” After this slew of successful releases, the band decided to step back from creating original material and began working on remixes for artists such as Deadbots, Jackdied, and Franz Ferdinand. This year, HOAXX has finally released their first full-length album, “Who is the Queen?” and I found the music developed enough to be strong and successful, but overly sound and coherent to create much challenge for its listeners.
The opening track, “Prophecy,” begins with the ringing of eerie, distant church bells and is layered with an Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar lick. Within thirty seconds, the song explodes into a bass-heavy dance beat punctuated by punchy, sporadic synth lines, creating an atmosphere comparable to that of the music of Daft Punk. At 2:30, the song diverts from its in-your-face energy, expanding into spacey ambiguity and tonal ambience, and when the drums reenter around 3:40, the listener is already craving a return to the track’s earlier intensity.
An epic opener, one that keeps the listener guessing throughout. The music is well-constructed, the energy peaking where it needs to and lying low when listeners need a drink of water. This track’s stylistic influences are numerous, drawing from everything from late 90’s electro-pop to 80’s hair metal, but the end result avoids clichés, utilizing its influences in a unique and creative manner. After listening, I was reasonably impressed and wanted to hear more, however, I found myself wondering if this was all there was to HOAXX as an artist, whether or not they held the ability to divert from their strong, genre-specific tendencies.
After the next few tracks following similar structural and melodic patterns, I finally found the diversity I was looking for in track four, entitled, “Each Other.” This track stands out as different due to its use of a female vocalist as the centerpiece. Furthermore, the music tends to mold itself to her voice. The heavy, dubstep bass acts as the stage on which she can comfortably perform, and the synth strings and occasional white noise bursts place emphasis on specific lyrics. The music as a whole is very complimentary as well as supplementary. Each element tends to fit well with the rest, creating a lush, poppy dance tune well worth multiple listens.
While I found the change of pace I was looking for in this track, there was a part of me that still did not feel satisfied. Yes, there was a part of me that not only wanted something different to occur musically, but also wanted so feel a sense of some third element, something that made the music lasting and memorable, because I felt that HOAXX, in some way, was striving to create music flowing in this vein.
Track six, “Let us down,” most strongly expressed this desire. The overall structure of the song, again, revolves around a vocalist, but the surrounding atmosphere is far sparser and more repetitive, and the use of electronic noise is more careful and less manic. For example, around 1:30, the song momentarily abandons descends into a chaos built on loops, featuring a falling synth glissando, a funky bass line, and a dreamy voice clip from an old film. All these elements are seemingly operating separately, drawing from different genres and time-periods, but when placed together, they create something entirely new and engaging. Perhaps the highlight of this section of the track is the sudden drop back into coherence, into a jubilant vocal chorus of the words, “We want to dance all night, and we can, because the drugs won’t let us down!” Reliant on its dynamics, its sudden drop offs and build-ups, this track certainly attempts to break new musical ground with limited instrumentation.
At this point in the album, I felt like HOAXX proved his ability to create music harnessing a plethora of musical influences from various time periods, and furthermore, they demonstrated their skill in foregrounding different musical elements such as bass and vocals. So, in a way, I felt complete. That is, about three quarters of the way through the album, I began to feel a declining urge to continue listening. I felt that I got all that I could get from HOAXX, and the last few songs felt…static. Not that the music was any less engaging or intelligent, it’s just that, from a critical standpoint, I felt the artists proved the value of their work too early on, which is a problem I didn’t know existed until writing this article.
The final track, “Who is the queen?” explores new territory not found elsewhere on the album. The intro lasts a full minute a half, with a steady drum beat and a lush synth string part, creating a mournful, rainy mood. At 1:30, a subdued dance beat is established, and a synth French horn drives the music forward. The French horn gradually evolves into an electric guitar, then finally is joined by a synth flute section, completing the build of this strange, orchestral track.
This track suggests that the members of HOAXX must have some experience in composition, and I appreciate their use of this knowledge in the EDM sphere. However, as I mentioned before, my desire to finish the album was already lower than expected, and I only wished this track had come a bit earlier, as it puts an unexpected spin on the album as a whole, leaving listeners feeling somber and vaguely unsettled.
On the whole, “Who is the Queen?” is widely diverse, well constructed, intelligent, and creative. I feel like much of the music holds lasting value and most certainly will be successful in the club sphere. But this album runs into a very unique problem, one I have yet to experience as a music critic. That is, the album is too sound, so much so that it lacks a certain human element written into most music subconsciously. HOAXX is talented in a way that actually ends up harming their overall success as artists. They’re too coherent, have too many tricks up thier sleeve, and are just too aware of what they’re capable of creating. Maybe this is overly critical, but this was my honest impression of their work. I felt like the music lacks a certain uncertainty, a sense of adventure and exploration, and in the end I felt complacent. Overall, this album was a strong success, but left me too comfortable. Give it a listen, and maybe you’ll see what I mean.