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Various Artists: Tangent 2002: Disco Nouveau

Album: Tangent 2002: Disco Nouveau
Label: Ghostly International

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Techno mythology usually focuses on bleak urban gloomscapes and machine-age alienation, but the music's beginnings in Detroit owe just as much to fashion. Devout readers of GQ and L'Uomo Vogue, the early-'80s Detroit scenesters formulated their movement at elitist social-club parties, where preening so-called "preps" matched their style fantasies with the robotic disco sounds pouring out of Europe. A literal-minded tribute to that bygone era, Tangent 2002: Disco Nouveau pits 14 nu-electro artists against a history currently undergoing a fashionably loud resurgence. Tangent 2002's liner notes chart the genealogy of Italo-disco—the wiggly electronic sound popularized by Giorgio Moroder and Alexander Robotnick—but the disc fans out into a sort of pan-'80s free-for-all. Legowelt's banging "Disco Rout" mixes techno fury with rubbery electro-funk that's perfect for a scorching Fiero ride. Solvent's "My Radio" buries a grainy vocoder whine beneath mournful, Blade Runner-style synth wind. Tangent 2002 features lots of meticulously mimed electro and new-wave retrofits, but even the best moments succumb to the law of diminishing returns. There's pleasure to be had in matching certain songs to early Human League hits, but save for a few notable exceptions (I-F's sweeping electro suite "Holographic Voice," DMX Krew's fun singalong "Make Me"), the album is less a tangent than a stylistic standstill. Whether the current electro rebirth amounts to anything more than a passing fancy with the past remains to be seen. But even dressed up in Tangent 2002's immaculate, book-like packaging, the movement seems better suited for a party scene that provides suitable distraction from the missing musical elements.