It’s seven years since workaholic Italo-disco producer Lindstrøm dropped his solitary collaboration up till now with a sassy vocalist then known as Solale – ‘Music (In My Mind)’. That was right at the dawn of his career, and since then, well, he’s pretty much established himself as the world leader in the disco resurgence, defined perhaps by his anthemic signature cut ‘I Feel Space’, offered up as part of his full-length E.P collection It’s A Feedelity Affair. That track’s brooding synth hook, combined with its grandiose title, cemented the conception of Lindstrøm as the NASA of contemporary electronic music; finding his way to the stars by mechanical means, distilling the sounds of the universe with a funky ‘space-disco’ beat. His 2008 debut album proper Where You Go I Go Too took the notion a step further, updating the epic, sweeping vibrancy that prog-rock clumsily groped for over three swirling lengthy tracks that were both stunning and satisfying in their shaping of a rich but unpretentious twinkly musical universe. And so, having earned his chops over the past decade, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm returns to where he began to expand that single collaboration with Christabelle (the moniker Solale has since reverted to) to a whole album of sweaty and chaotic disco belters: Real Life Is No Cool.
Whilst his ever-bulging canon finds Lindstrøm increasingly experimenting with electronically-rendered prog soundscapes, the addition of vocals courtesy of Feedelity Records’ ‘first lady’ steers Real Life Is No Cool away from the ‘space’ part of Lindstrøm’s output and firmly towards the ‘disco’. Yes, this is a thumping glitchy stomper of a record that gives all the funkier bits of the seventies a distinctly 21st century sheen. The lyrical contributions from Belgian national Christabelle – whose full name, Christabelle Silje Isabelle Birgitta Sandoo, was understandably trimmed down – were apparently entirely improvised and then handed on to her collaborator to be bent and edited into shape alongside the beats, and this willingness to warp her singing, one of the most important factors in the ability of this album to modernise and distance itself from its dated disco influences, is apparent from the off, as opener ‘Looking For What’ kicks in with Christabelle’s a cappella vocals twisted and overlaid until they are nothing more than garbled stuttered gibberish. Whilst Where You Go I Go Too was notable for the seamless flowing of one track into another, the shifts via gradual sonic progressions, here Lindstrøm is constantly chopping and distorting, stopping tracks abruptly short to emphasize the changeovers, so that the album comes across as a messily assembled mix-tape stuffed with enthusiastic flourishes, or, increasingly, and surely intentionally, as a constantly equalizing radio – tracks vanish until more of Christabelle’s vocals tune-in, sometimes to be rejected after only a few seconds.
This chaotic approach (improvisation, chopping and changing) makes for a surprisingly vibrant listen, propelling the record forward in an energetic torrent, and whilst at times Christabelle inevitably sounds a little too wishy-washy, and her off-the-cuff mantras fall short of properly thought-through melody, frequently the surprise is rather at hearing a classic soul gem emerge fully-formed from the confusion. ‘Lovesick’ drops a massive creaky old-school hip-hop beat as Christabelle sassily chants echoing remonstrations at some spurning lover, before the sexy strut merges impulsively into the hypnotic harmonies and staccato synth spurts of ‘Let It Happen’. Shifts in pace and atmosphere slice up the record, without ever blocking its driving funk danceability, hallmarks of classic disco, funk and soul are referenced constantly, but kept from receding into pastiche by resolutely modern intrusions, whether it be the cut-up vocals or the essential pulsing beats that assert themselves through the nostalgia to remind us that this is still very much an electronica album. This melding and tension throws up numerous impressive moments, with Christabelle’s vocals as versatile as her producer’s beats. On ‘Music In My Mind’ she sports an Annie-esque sweet airy croon, whilst on ‘Let’s Practice’ she momentarily howls like Annie Lennox over a thumping, groaning, swelling pulse. Real Life Is No Cool’s centrepiece, ‘Baby Can’t Stop’, could well be the duo’s tribute to the late Michael Jackson: chirpy big-band brass lilting over a Quincy Jones funk growl as Christabelle does her best vocal and lyrical impression of a fledgling Jacko, the refrain, ‘baby I can’t stop/ I can’t get enough’, surely a nod to ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’. As if charting a night out the record winds down with the curious backwards washes and tape loops of ‘Never Say Never’, before closing with the sweet and leisurely ‘High And Low’, which even boasts a smooth seventies guitar solo (albeit also offered up in rewind), and could pass as one of the lovelier moments on Lykke Li’s debut.
After the disappointment of Lindstrøm’s last full-length collaboration – his and Prins Thomas’s II – which aimed at musical authenticity but ended up sounding like it had been thrown together on Garage Band from default seventies guitar stems, Real Life Is No Cool is a welcome return to form. These are throwback thrills of the freshest kind, with a clear fondness for the dormant excesses of the glory days of funk, soul and disco, but brought thoroughly up-to-date by Lindstrøm’s supremely inventive and organic production and Christabelle’s vocal fearlessness. Real life doesn’t get much cooler (or sweatier and sexier) than this.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2009