Alexander Robotnick has a long, unique musical history. Starting out in the late 80’s, the artist composed soundtracks for theater, film, and fashion shows, and, in 1983, he released the groundbreaking electro album, “Problèmes D’Amour.” In the late 80’s, the artist went through a profound style change, founding world music bands “Music for Meditation” and “The Third Planet” which focused on blending Indian and Algerian music with modern sounds and structures. In the early 2000’s, Robotnick returned to the EDM world with “Oh no…Robotnick,” modernizing his sound by implementing Ableton Live into his music. His most recent release, “Vol. 7” is a unique blend between his 80’s old school roots and modern sonic experiments. The end result is something intriguing, but not all together satisfying.
The opening track, “Give me something to dream,” has a classic deep-house feel with its bass-heavy beat and deep, eerie vocal sample stating, “give me something, something to dream.” The main melodic line floats quietly above the music, gradually leading the bass and drums into a smooth down-tempo/nu-disco break. At times, this track uses a wall-of-sound approach to express its energy, drenching the listener with waves of white noise.
My overall impression of the music at this point was somewhere between run of the mill and strangely unique. I found myself asking: what does Robotnick want to accomplish with his music? I heard all of his individual influences at play, sometimes blending well with one another, sometimes not. But, unlike some artists, I sensed a larger idea functioning behind the scenes, something greater that wished to be expressed.
The second track, “Bordon,” deepened this feeling. The music holds a vaguely perturbing drone beneath it and is layered by a quiet, subdued dance beat. When the synth melody was introduced at the one-minute mark, I found myself cringing in my chair. “This is so painfully 80’s!” I thought, but wasn’t turned off enough to give up on the track. The beat grows more and more complex as the song progresses, and Robotnick finally brings the music into the present with the introduction of a dubstep bass line around 2:30. Soon after, the synth drums switch from hi-hat to ride, giving the song a jazzier feel. The track peaks with the fade-in of a dreamy synth melody, making the music both danceable and catchy.
I felt that Robotnick really delivered in this tune, lulling listeners into a trance, then gradually constructing contrasting atmospheres, then finally completing his slow energy build with a poppy synth melody. This was my favorite track on the album.
The third track, “Back to dreams,” has an old school feel with the drum machine sounding as if from a Michael Jackson tune. But the bass line at 45 seconds is all modern funk, and the short, punchy synth lines make the music feel raw and unhinged. He dips into down-tempo break around 1:30, with wah-wah synth chords, and a sparser drum beat. I found this portion of the track to be a bit of a let down. It felt like down-tempo is kind of his go-to, making his music predictable and boring. Around 3:30, he exits down-tempo by introducing a ghostly, drowned-out piano line, giving the music a much-needed shift in feel. The music slowly deconstructs into its individual components, leaving nothing but a drum beat for the last thirty seconds, until the music dies abruptly.
A cool track overall, but not nearly as successful as “Bordon.” It felt like Robotnick didn’t quite develop all of his ideas for this track and ended up falling back into a down-tempo groove simply because it was something with which he felt comfortable.
On the whole, I’d say “Vol. 7” has a lot to offer. On the surface, much of the music feels underdeveloped, but on the other hand, there are moments when Robotnick successfully bridges the gap between the 80’s and the present, bringing about something sonically menacing, immersive, hypnotic, and danceable. I felt like listening to this album was like wandering through a thick fog; I could vaguely make out shapes and direction, but after a while I just wanted to feel comfortable and oriented. Therein lies Robotnick’s greatest flaw. That is, he’s great at lulling listeners into a trance, but once he’s got you where he wants you, he doesn’t quite deliver. He leaves listeners waiting for that extra something that makes the music feel complete, powerful, worth it. But for now, I’d say the guy’s got talent, he just needs to properly execute it.