It’s the most wonderful time of the year again. No, not the Christmas season — that’s been going on since October. The reason to rejoice is that the House of Kitsune has released its new compilation, Number 8, and the experience of listening is much like unwrapping gifts under a tree. There’s always the hope that the gifts will include Modern Warfare 2 and maybe an extension from the bank on your home foreclosure. There is also the attendant risk of a lump of coal. The question on everyone’s (chapped) lips is this: Is The Ocho any good?
Anyone who follows blogs religiously — and is there really any other kind? — will already have heard a number of these songs, but the charm of the Kitsune collections is that they have the potential to expose the enthusiasts of minimal music to surf rock, and it is a credit to the label that two such disparate acts can find a place under the same roof.
But the album? Well, the problem with putting so many singles on an album is that some of them cannot help but suffer in comparison. Sure, we live in an iPod-shuffle culture, but sometimes hearing a great song next to a mediocre one damages the experience of hearing both. As has been the problem with previous Kitsune releases, track order proves to be extremely jarring.
French Horn Rebellion carries first song duties with its “Up All Night,” and it does not disappoint, setting the bar fairly high for the rest of the album. I could swear The Drums are singing “Obama” in the refrain to their “Let’s Go Surfing,” but the real hook is the whistling, which will probably stick in your head in a very unhealthy way.
Then the album destroys its flow. Siriusmo starts “High Together” with what feels like a salsa techno song. This actually wouldn’t be too bad, but after a few bars it transforms into something resembling theme music to one of the trippier Sesame Street interludes. If a DJ threw this track down in this play order, you would think it was amateur night, especially since there’s a perfect place for it amongst the minimalism of “Brutal Weapons” and the Harvard Bass Remix of Beni’s “Maximus” — six tracks later.
In some ways, Kitsune Maison 8 also feels like Kitsune Maison Compilation 7, The B-Sides. Of course it is not unexpected to find repeat appearances from Kitsune’s stable of artists — heck, the whole purpose of these compilations is to aggregate and publicize. But when Le Corps Mince de Francoise’s “Something Golden” sounds absurdly like La Roux during the refrain, it doesn’t help matters, especially since they sound like The Knife during the verses. After Chew Lips’ standout single, “Solo,” on Kitsune Maison 7, just about any other release (including the remix of their “Salt Air” that appears here) would be a disappointment. Heartsrevolution contributes “Dance Till Dawn,” with vocals cribbed from the Adam Sky remix of Riot in Belgium’s “La Musique” — which was on Compilation 4! At least on their Compilation 7 contribution, the Brooklyn-based duo sounded like they were breaking away from a Crystal Castles-scream-and-synth sound and moving toward some weird lullaby. It’s a shame to hear them backpedal.
A lot of these songs feel like “spot the pastiche.” Junocide’s “Logo” apes Moroder, but then again everything sounds like Giorgio. By the time the song actually gets to a melody, it has only got a minute left, so the entire effort feels unresolved. Moulinex turns in a remix of Two Door Cinema Club’s “I Can Talk,” which steals its intro drum beat right out of “Beat It.” Fortunately, the song goes in its own funky direction and while hearing “I know” gets irritating after the twentieth repetition, there’s enough going on in the song to make it worthwhile. “Find the Fire” by the Parallels is almost as good as ’80s-era Madonna, and even has a title that is a more-than-sufficient allusion to sex.
From a label that has given early exposure to so many great dance acts, it is a little weird to see how two songs on the compilation — Amwe’s “Friction Between the Lovers” and Delphic’s “This Momentary” — are basically Japanese DDR pop and what amounts to indie rave. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Harvard Bass remix of Beni’s “Maximus” isn’t pushing the dance genre forward, but it is so irresistible in in its simplicity and chorus that it ranks among the compilation’s better tracks.
So where does this leave Kitsune Maison 8? The inclusion of Memory Tapes’ “Bicycle” serves as a reminder that the fox is still a tastemaker, even in the age of chillwave. If the Midnight Juggernauts’ “This New Technology” is any indication, then maybe the future of the label’s aesthetic lies in something truly leftfield. The song could be a late-’60s progressive rock classic. Hell, there’s even a Styx-style keyboard interlude (early ’80s prog, but prog nonetheless). The only problem with prog is that it is music you can’t dance to, and for a label that made its name with great dance compilations, this Christmas gift comes up short. Grab the singles you like best, then file it away with the sweater from grandma.