Record Reviews

The Experiment

On debut album ?The Experiment?, Art Vs. Science understand that repetition is the foundation of dance music – but it’s a trick that wears thin, writes ANDREW MCMILLEN.

Popular culture generally exists to meet demand. Most artists spend their lives attempting to offer works that resonate with as wide an audience as possible. By tapping into popular sentiments, savvy artists can short-circuit the often lengthy process of artistic acceptance. Case in point: Art Vs. Science, who – legend has it – formed on the spot while its three members stood watching Daft Punk playing in Sydney some years ago. The crowd was going bonkers for two dudes in robot suits atop a glowing pyramid. They probably stood and wondered aloud: ?Why not us??

Following on from a high-profile spot at Splendour In The Grass in 2008, thanks largely to debut single ?Flippers? – whose goofy chorus was comprised entirely of ?Hey! Ho! Use your flippers to get down!? – and nearly topping the 2009 triple j Hottest 100 with ?Parlez Vous Francais??, Art Vs. Science have emerged with their first album, The Experiment. True to form, it’s packed from top to tail with brash electronica, delivered with their now-trademark dance-punk attitude. Here, we hear guitars furiously tapping away at fretboards during oh-so obvious breakdowns that lead into slamming synth-led choruses; all custom-made for hands-in-the-air dance festival sets. (By the by, this is a band who’s known for performing live covers of ?Where’s Your Head At?? and ?Boom! Shake The Room? to tents full of peaking munters).

In isolation, The Experiment is a dull record, because these songs won’t come to life until they’re heard and felt in a live environment. A five-minute instrumental rave-up like ?Meteor (I Feel Fine)? sounds foolish playing on your home stereo (though interestingly, it’s the closest they’ve gotten to sounding like Daft Punk). Several songs here are based around single words or short phrases – ?Higher?, ?Bumblebee?, ?Sledgehammer? – which seem to be included for the sole purpose of giving crowds something nonsensical to shout amid the pulsing synth din.

?In isolation, ‘The Experiment’ is a dull record, because these songs won’t come to life until they’re heard and felt in a live environment.?

Album opener (and highlight, by a wide margin) ‘Finally See Our Way’ is a taut pop song laced with electronic flourishes. When I first heard it on the radio, I thought it was a new Midnight Juggernauts track. Such a comparison is a credit to what Art Vs. Science achieve here: vocally, musically, structurally, it’s without doubt their creative peak thus far. Which makes The Experiment?s artistic troughs that much harder to bear. Take ?Bumblebee?, for example. Built around an insistent electronic beat, the track sees one of the band’s dual keyboardist/vocalists repeating the song’s title, over and over, through a vocoder. For nearly four minutes.

This dichotomy between the band’s modes of songwriting is jarring. ?New World Order? is the halfway mark between the two: relatively sedate, yet still flecked by spiralling synth lines. Single ?Magic Fountain? is Art Vs. Science at the height of their macho bravado. Characterised by a ridiculous cheesy, reverb-laden vocal intro, its chorus features a battery of warped keyboard sounds and – of course – the song’s title, repeated over and over.

Evidently Art Vs. Science understand that repetition is the foundation of dance music. But were it not for the album’s opener and the surprisingly mellow ?With Thoughts?, the album could be easily dismissed as a one-note act making hay while the sun still shines on their blissfully brainless patch of land. Though there’s irony in the fact that three intelligent guys are (probably) having a massive laugh at how they’re able to make such ridiculously OTT music for a mainstream audience, as it stands, The Experiment fails.