Cosmic backlash

Is space no longer the place for neo-disco?
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> johnny@sfbg.com

Everyone agrees that disco is alive and proliferating. But is it devolving from au courant status into something that deserves the 21st century version of a stadium vinyl bonfire? Genres are vague in the realm of electronic music, and disco has become almost as ubiquitous and generic an overarching tag as techno. The neo-disco banner now stretches from the Fire Island revivalism of Hercules and Love Affair, and Escort to the cosmic expeditions of Lindstrom and his disciples. Clearly, it must be made of something synthetic.

Between the flaming diva pageantry of Hercules and the heterosexual prog geekery of Hans-Peter, one finds the languid romantic intellectualism of Morgan Geist. In recent interviews, Geist questions contemporary disco's existence, though his rarity compilation Unclassics (Environ, 2004) and his work with Metro Area have played a major role in its formation. Yet technically speaking, he's right. His new Double Night Time (Environ) kicks off with "Detroit," where instead of disco, the North American home of techno is evoked. Still, austerity aside, "Detroit" is a techno track as much as it's a disco track, meaning not very. It is new romantic: an effete little brother of butch post-punk and femme disco, with a Motor City radio DJ heart that belongs to Mike Halloran as much as the Electrifying Mojo.

The late avant-disco pioneer Arthur Russell is often invoked in relation to Geist, but Double Night Time is cooler and more reserved. Guest vocalist Kelley Polar doesn't croon with the mannered zeal that defines his own 2008 venture away from Metro Area, I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling (Environ). In fact, he's hard to differentiate from the album's other mannered vocalist, Jeremy Greenspan of the Junior Boys. While Russell's music is cerebral, his tenor never seems detached. In contrast, when Greenspan declares that he wants to cry during "Most of All," it comes across as a come-on. That doesn't mean it isn't seductive, though, and Geist's chiming sound reaches a chilly peak on the low-key yet bravura relationship post-op "Ruthless City."

Lindstrom's first proper solo album — after a compilation, and a full-length collaboration with Prins Thomas — is a different neo-disco creature. Whereas Geist presents nine pop-inflected compositions in less than 50 minutes, Where You Go I Go Too (Smalltown Supersound) stretches three tracks to nearly an hour. Where exactly does Lindstrom go on the 29-minute title track? To my ears, he disappears into a Tangerine Dream and reemerges as Cerrone: a whirligig melody that echoes the motif of Cerrone's 1978 disco classic "Supernature" adds whimsy to wave upon wave of arpeggio. But what do I know? One local music shop detractor has compared Lindstrom's latest to the sounds of Paul Lekakis, the actor-model-vocalist who brought the world "Boom Boom (Let's Go Back to My Room)."

On Hatchback's Colours of the Sun (Lo Recordings), San Francisco's Sam Grawe steers clear of any Lekakis-isms, though arpeggio for arpeggio, there's a definite Lindstrom-on-ludes feel to the penultimate track, "White Diamond." Hatchback drives right up to the exact spot — a couch at the edge of a dancefloor? — where disco slips off the term cosmic disco. Grawe knows krautrock and cosmiche music inside out, but like his pal Daniel Judd of Sorcerer, he's at his best crafting soundtracks for cheesy movies that don't exist but should.

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