Riding on today’s broad wave of retro-futurist disco acts, this is the final installment of an album trilogy spanning almost three decades from a cultishly revered French electronic group. When the original album, 1978’s Disco Club, attributed to Black Devil, was reissued as a series of twelve-inches by Rephlex, its uncannily prescient electro-disco sound and enshrouded origins inspired enough disbelief that it was rumored to be a John Fahey-style hoax played out at the hands of Richard James and Luke Vibert. Finally it was revealed to have been the brainchild of one French library musician by the name of Bernard Fevre, who used synths, tape loops and a drummer. Two years later, the then re-titled Black Devil Disco Club released 28 After, ostensibly referring to the lapse in years between full-lengths, and it sounded enough like its predecessor and was cased in enough of an information void that it was nearly impossible to tell just how much it was following up. It was a sophomore record that sounded like it could have been recorded thirty minutes or thirty years after the debut.
The Black Devil sound, an instantly recognizable dark forest of lasers and steely mechanized drums, relies on a principle of only the most minor stylistic deviation: Every track is more or less the same bag of heady, mesmerizing tricks, and you’ve got to keep an eye on the stereo if you want to know when one track has ended and the next has begun. In the end this only makes it harder to pin down historically — it could have been made three decades ago in Italy as a one-off between Giorgio Moroder and Claudio Simonetti, or it could have been made yesterday by your neighbor who’s really into Metro Area. The resulting historical disorientation is pretty refreshing, particularly for a growing subgenre obsessed with crate-digging obscurity and stylistic re-appropriation. Without knowing whether you’re listening to a shiny new thing or a reissued old thing you’re left to just enjoy the music on its own terms.
Eight Oh Eight functions as a culmination of this three-piece arc not by issuing an ultimate artistic statement but rather showing that there’s not much else to say. The swirling synths and endearingly goofy processed vocals still have that Hannett-style cavern shimmer, the disco hi-hats still glisten above the impossibly dense production, and the tracks still unspool in an a near-vertiginous circular whirl. There’s some seriously intuitive balancing action going on here: No other artistic faculty other than sheer instinctual knack can allow one to keep a brewing storm from becoming a swamp.
But it’s all there on the first two records, except here it sounds like Fevre actually mastered the damn thing, which is a double-edged prospect. The instruments sound crisp, clean and neatly panned when compared to earlier material, but that magical analog fairy dust that so lovingly blows throughout the older stuff has been wiped away at the same time. Ultimately Black Devil Disco Club’s three-album oeuvre is basically one Autobahn-style epic jam, the form of which is contained in nuce in the first two minutes of the first song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Fevre’s managed to strike an artistic current that runs deep enough to allow him to play out to great effect all manner of its permutations. It just looks like three albums is pretty much all of them.