The schizophrenic nature of music consumption in this decade has lead many indie types to embrace the healing powers of cutting a rug. It hasn’t hurt that interesting dance music is flowing from sources as diverse as Missy Elliott, the DFA, and Brazilian baile funk. This spirit of pan-cultural influence guides Soft Machine by the Swedish collective Teddybears, but clunky execution dumbs everything down and feels like a step backward.
According to the band’s manifesto, the members like to “mix it up” so as to not “limit (themselves) to any specific style.” So why load the record’s first half with two repetitive Jamaican dancehall numbers? You don’t have to be a dancehall scholar to know that altering the “bawitdaba” nonsense refrain (“Cobrastyle”) or finding ways to not rhyme “party” and “shorty” (“Are You Feeling it?”) aren’t the genre’s best moments. “Ahead of My Time” sounds, hilariously, like a Lo-Fidelity All Stars track that’s been hiding in a used bin since 1998. “Magic Kraut” shoots for the ’70s German renaissance but has an arrangement that’s too cluttered to match the slowly evolving minimalism that gave the genre its grace. After all of the preceding goof beats, I almost want to give them credit for attempting something more tasteful, but putting a tweed jacket on a Dalmatian won’t make it a college professor.
Even the album’s standout tracks come with caveats. “Yours to Keep” is a decent bubblegum tune, but guest singer Nenah Cherry handles the trite lyrics with much less verve than Norwegian pop star Annie (who sang them in a previously released version). “Punkrocker,” the album’s best moment, is completely dependant on the zombie vocal of Iggy Pop. Although the backing music is of the fairly generic Cars/Weezer synth variety, Pop’s bored deadpan makes it work because, of course, he’s a goddamn punk rocker. No one else would have been even moderately convincing. It’s a relief when the floating “Alma” closes the album, more for putting an end to the frat rock than for possessing a winning melody.
Soft Machine aims to be the life of a multicultural party where everyone is invited to embrace their common ground. Instead, it’s a shallow gathering where ideas aren’t even discussed. It’s possible to get blitzed enough to enjoy such an event, but you’re not going to feel good about it in the morning.