Basement Jaxx is the best electronic duo to make pop music -- ever. It's not only because Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton kind of started out that way anyway; it's really because their music doesn't sound like dance trying to be pop or pop trying to be dance. It's a perfect combination of strong melodies and unrelenting beats, carefully crafted structure and anarchic arrangements. If their third record, 2003's Kish Kash, was a disappointment, it was because they didn't seem to throw themselves into the execution; they seemed to rely on kitchen-sink production to get them through songs that didn't stick to the ribs the way the best from Rooty (2001) did. Nothing kills house like a removed attitude, because if you don't take yourself seriously, it comes across as ironic delivery. That's probably why the hipsters embraced Kish Kash.
Crazy Itch Radio may lose a lot of those fans, but it's a perfect addition to a catalog that may be untouchable among its peers'. This fourth record is Basement Jaxx's most soulful yet, and like Herbert's Scale from earlier this year, it reaches back into disco's early years for inspiration. The strongest example of this -- and the album's best song -- is "On the Train," a brilliant soul-tinged party record that only sounds right when it's turned up to eleven. "Hey You" and "Take Me Back to Your House" bring more energy to the table; the latter even adds a banjo to the Jaxx's bag of tricks.
"Hush Boy," the first single, is a direct descendant of Kish Kash. But unlike "Run 4 Cover," the other Kish Kash-like track and the only disappointing moment on the album, "Hush Boy" takes a (relatively) minimalist approach, with none of the rrrock attitude that seemed so forced on the earlier record. But, really, nothing seems forced here, not even the radio interlude, and nothing seems safe, not even the late-night jam called "Lights Go Down." Even better, very few songs seem like the ticking time bombs too much of the slightly dated Rooty turned out to be.
It's unclear how much pressure should be put on Basement Jaxx to produce timeless work. The group's sound, even on its undeniable classic debut, 1999's Remedy, has always been tied to its surroundings, so most of what matters has to with whether the trends Ratcliffe and Buxton are using have any merit; regardless of song quality, the Jaxx have always been able to take the best of what every style has to offer and leave the rest on the cutting-room floor. Whether the result of the group's work ages well is of less concern than whether it does what it should do -- to get the body moving. The accurately titled Crazy Itch Radio continually succeeds in this regard, and the members of Basement Jaxx do what they do best: make infectious, progressive, immediate dance music. In this decade at least, no one does it better.
Band (streaming audio): http://www.basementjaxx.co.uk/
Media player: http://www.crazyitchpodcast.com/basement_jaxx_player.zipAudio: http://www.myspace.com/basementjaxx