Total Score: 80 / Solid Gold: 67%
If you follow the blogs, you know Miami Horror’s debut full-length Illumination has been a long time coming. The young Australian producer, Benjamin Plant, who also tours under the Miami Horror name as a four-piece live band and recorded this album with them, first roused ears in 2007, in the electro-house scene that was starting to become referred to as “blog-house”. Of course no one likes the term, or its implications (except maybe blog-made hacks like The Hood Internet) — but the truth of the matter is the emergence of music blogs dedicated to the growing electro-house movement, as well as aggregators like Hype Machine and Elbo.ws making them all searchable, is exactly what created the impetus for an act like Miami Horror to reach a wide, growing, international fanbase. Without blog-house, I doubt anyone would be referring to this record as “highly anticipated”, but Illumination is just that.
When Miami Horror mp3s first began circulating in 2007, there were a handful of brilliant remixes (mostly of fellow Australians like Grafton Primary and the already-blown-up Midnight Juggernauts) and one original track – the infinitely catchy “Don’t Be On With Her”. More remixes leaked out over the months, but more original material didn’t surface until 2008’s Bravado EP, a fairly lackluster and disappointing release showcasing an artist who had yet to find his own sound.
The truth is its difficult being an electronic act out of Melbourne these days without resorting to Cut Copy imitation. In Australia it seems its all they want to hear. After all, this is the continent that brought us Kylie Minogue and buys a great deal of her records – in the Melbourne club scene, they want to hear house and disco, and the Cut Copy disco-house dance-punk whatever-you-want-to-call-it sound has proven to be a fairly successful formula in the area. Midnight Juggernauts have yet to prove themselves as much more than a fairly formidable Cut Copy copy, and at times Miami Horror have a hard time veering far enough away themselves. The trouble with this kind of imitation is that the Cut Copy sound when played by Cut Copy is itself somewhat generic and bores after repetition without variety. Spread out amongst rising young Australian indie acts who lack the impressive production skill that Cut Copy clearly possess, and you’ve created one of the most derivative, uninteresting, and inescapable local indie scenes that’s emerged in the last five years. Americans may be less sympathetic to a situation like this, where if a musician is dissatisfied with the music coming from their hometown in Portland they can always drive up to Seattle, down to the Bay or L.A. – or fly to Austin, or Brooklyn, Baltimore, wherever – all without showing anyone their passport. Melbourner Benjamin Plant of Miami Horror does not possess such luxuries.
All the more impressive, then, how on his debut LP, Miami Horror is finally able to distinguish himself as a unique, individual force in the scene, and a force to be reckoned with. Miami Horror’s influences are no different from Cut Copy’s – essentially just disco and pop music from the 70s, 90s britpop, and French house music from the turn of the century; musicians like Daft Punk, Stardust, and Supermen Lovers – artist who themselves were primarily influenced by (and primarily sampled) disco and pop music from the 70s as well. But Miami Horror utilizes these influences to a much more eclectic result than their Australian contemporaries, a highly thought-out melding of a vintage disco aesthetic with a new, interesting take on the Daft Punk formula. Sometimes the result does end up sounding like Cut Copy, which is successful once (on 2009 single “Sometimes”) and fails twice (“Summersun”, “Moon Theory”). But at times, Plant and his band decide to make songs that actually sound like disco songs, instead of the Australian brand of disco-inspired indie-pop, and here they can amaze. This happens first on “I Look To You” featuring vocalist Kimbra, the crew’s latest single. Although not sounding quite like Daft Punk, there is a similar treatment to the disco influence, looping instrumental disco samples and putting them through phasers and filters, and throwing a thumping bass drum on top. The influence of 70s pop specifically — and here, Miami Horror may be nodding in agreement with French producers (and Feed the Dog favorites) Siriusmo and Breakbot — comes through the strongest on “Holidays” and monster track “Imagination (I Want You To Know)”. These three tracks are among the most instantly catchy, undeniable electro-house bangers that have come out in the last ten years, and alone are reason to invest in the new LP.
Elsewhere on the record, Miami Horror take their disco in new directions with startling results. On the instrumental “Grand Illusion”, Plant layers an intricate volume of synths and 8-bit instruments, creating a kind of nostalgic video game anthem track and proving when it comes to production, he’s more than up to snuff with the boys of Cut Copy – in fact he might be the most gifted producer making music in Australia today. The track serves as a perfect segue between the previously mentioned killer “Imagination (I Want You To Know” and “Soft Light” – a track that brilliantly marries the soft insistency of Air, and the epic, massive synth sound characteristic of the Melbourne scene.
On a personal note, with the advent of this new 70s-influenced electro-house sound that has been coming to a head in 2010 from artists like Breakbot, Siriusmo, and of course Miami Horror, I haven’t been this excited about being a techno freak since Justice dropped in 2006. Illumination is a record that is able to invoke early 21st century house classics including Daft Punk’s Discovery, Air’s Talkie Walkie, and the Supermen Lovers’ The Player, breathing new life into disco once again. At the same time, Illumination is a record that roots itself firmly within the Melbourne electro scene, giving the rest of the world new reasons to recognize the movement as a legitimate phenomenon. While at times Miami Horror’s debut falters, in its best moments it is more promising than any other dance record that has come out this year – from Australia or elsewhere.
Killer – “Imagination (I Want You To Know)”, “I Look To You”, “Holidays”
Filler – “Infinite Canyons”, “Moon Theory”, “Ultraviolet”