Syclops are a trio about which little is known. Some speculate that Syclops — ostensibly composed of Finns Sven Kortehisto, Hann Sarkari, and Jukka Kantonen — is a nom de plume of the improbably brilliant house producer Maurice Fulton. The music contained on Syclops’ excellent DFA-branded debut record, I’ve Got My Eye on You, certainly contains its share of Fulton-esque quirks — though they’re not so much pinpointable musical gestures as a general sense of mischievousness. But up against the ten tracks of churning, cosmic disco-funk that make up this album — a high point for dance music in 2008 and yet another feather in DFA’s cap — the question of who’s really responsible is rendered totally extraneous.
Which eliminates the accompanying (and seemingly obligatory) dreary work of getting biographical and discographical details in order: I’ve Got My Eye on You is the kind of album that can court and defy several genres in the space of each six-minute track, the sort of stealth operation that uses the anonymity of its creators to its best advantage.
That’s one reason why calling this a dance record is not the whole truth: The album brims over with glowing synth patches and Fulton’s itchy drum programming, but Syclops’ main points of reference center less on the dance floor than the heavier end of the jazz-fusion spectrum. This claim probably sounds as likely as a Joe Satriani/Wolf Eyes split, but Syclops make a strong case for re-evaluating the instinctive chill associated with the trappings of fretless basses, tiny splash cymbals, and middlebrow groove. Syclops aim for and capture a rarer essence: that effortless molten heaviness of fusion-era Miles Davis, or the economical atmospheres of the Weather Report.
“The Fly” opens with a clenched rave-siren squeal so rhythmically obtuse that it might as well be a puzzle for the Syclops to figure out: How can you begin with the climax when it’s this eye-gougingly irritating? As the track progresses, counter-rhythms provided by live-sounding drums and a pleasantly ambient keyboard figure (shades of Joe Zawinul) undercut the synthesizer’s peal, letting little sips of air into the track. “5 Out” first plays at being a disposable down-tempo jam (a mincing drum pattern and jaw-chatteringly chilly synth puffs fill the frame) before going full-bore toward Terre Thaemlitz’s digital jazz, complete with the inhumanly virtuosic, MIDI-assisted chromatic somersaults courtesy of an uptight synbass.
Released earlier in the year “Where’s Jason’s K” should be the album’s chronological and sonic centerpiece: a low-res, deep-space banger that never comes up for breath. Even though it’s the album’s most contagious moment, it resists the responsibility of coordinating the other nine tracks. With a rhythm and bass line that are almost manically locked-in, the track gathers up tremendous power but stubbornly refuses to explode. In this it’s of a piece with the album’s other, zero-gravity groove tracks that tend to accumulate details rather than engulf the listener.
The possibly fictitious members of Syclops, taking full advantage of their refuge from digital overexposure, have gotten hold of the space-bound, exploratory inclinations of house and fusion and put them to new use. The results are fresh and audacious enough to excuse the fact that their simmer never boils over.