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Junkie XL “Synthesized”: Album Review

Nettwerk (2012)

Still best-known for shimmying Elvis Presley onto the dance-floor with his 2002 remix of “A Little Less Conversation,” Dutch producer Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, has spent the last four years creating soundtracks for video games such as The Sims 3 and DOA: Dead or Alive in addition to working with Hans Zimmer on the scores for Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.

Understandably, then, there’s a certain cinematic quality to the two ambient instrumentals (“Take Off On Molly’s E,” “The Art Of Luxurious Intergalactic Time Travel”) which bookend his sixth studio album, Synthesized. But perhaps a little too busy with his composing duties to notice the rise of the EDM movement, the majority of the follow-up to 2008’s Booming Back at You is that rare beast, a modern club record without a trace of a dubstep wobble or ‘hands in the air’ trance synth hook.

Indeed, having assembled a pretty eclectic line-up of guest vocalists, it’s refreshing to hear that Junkie XL has played to their strengths rather than merely shoehorning them in. “When Is Enough Not Enough” pares Curt Smith’s under-rated melancholic delivery with an authentic 80s synth-pop backdrop that could be mistaken for a long-lost Tears For Fears classic. Chinese Flash Mob’s Isis Salam lends her playful vocals to an equally mischievous blend of robotic techno-funk and warped ska-pop on “Off The Dancefloor.” And the beyond-the-grave tones of LSD advocate Timothy Leary accompany the suitably trippy acid-house throwback “Leave Behind Your Ego.”

But Synthesized loses its way slightly with a second half which is randomly pre-occupied with classic rock. And whilst Chicago producer Tommie Sunshine and Norwegian electro trio Datarock’s contributions on the gothic Sisters of Mercy-esque “Love Machine” and the ZZ Top homage “Gloria” respectively are enjoyable enough curveballs, the monstrous wall of feedback which closes “Klatshing!” and the abrasive glam-metal of “Kill The Band” prove that guitars aren’t always the answer.

Synthesized won’t stop Junkie XL from being tagged as The King-remixing one-hit wonder, but it’s still a consistently entertaining listen which suggests his alternate career is doing him a world of good.

3.5 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Jon O'Brien's love of music began as a six-year-old after becoming bizarrely transfixed with the 80s poodle rock of Heart, Europe and Def Leppard. Switching his attention to pop icon Michael Jackson, he then became addicted to the UK Top 40, becoming a rather pointless walking Wikipedia of chart positions in the process. Driving his poor neighbors up the wall while learning to play the drums as a teen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, but in studying Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, he realized heÕd rather write about music than perform it. Since then, he's written thousands of reviews and biographies on everything from bubblegum pop to death metal, but electronica remains his main passion, with everything from Aphex Twin to Zero 7 in his spare room-consuming record collection. Jon resides in northwest England near Liverpool.

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Posted in: Album Reviews, Electronic Music, Featured


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