OK Cowboy album cover
OK Cowboy

Vitalic

2003
Different

With Daft Punk’s Human After All a coldly-received aberration and the scuzzy buzzsaw bombast of Justice’s Cross still a couple years away, anyone itching for an enjoyably abrasive take on French dance music circa 2005 was best served by the first full-length from Pascal Arbez, b/k/a Vitalic. OK Cowboy was a cult hit despite taking four years to capitalize on the revolutionary potential of 2001’s Poney EP, with three of its hyperventilating excursions into electro house — both parts of its manic, hypertense ghost-in-the-vocoder title track, along with the endlessly revving death-by-kickdrum wallop “La Rock 01” — anchoring an album that found a whole lot of other ways to make speakers bleed. Even calling it “house” stirs up question marks and yeah-buts; Vitalic has even positioned as a harder-edged and techno-indebted corrective to the “French touch” reputation and he seems to revel in that kind of iconoclasm. Why else would he open one of the decade’s most anticipated dance records with a chirpy carnival-pipe-emulating goof like “Polkamatic,” or bridge the headbanger electro of supercar-death-drive anthem “My Friend Dario” and “La Rock 01” with a glam-schaffel platform-boot stomper like “Wooo,” or close it all out with the rapidly escalating drumline avalanche of “Valletta Fanfares”? Even the stuff that follows in Poney's ten-ton footsteps, like the dead-eyed but manic-bodied “No Fun” and the sweat-flinging synth-thrash of “Newman,” are better categorized by size than genre (and we’re talking XXXL, minimum). It’s the kind of album that seems only marginally categorizable under the same umbrella as its late ’90s Homework/Super Discount precedents, but it fits in comfortably enough alongside the over-the-top decadence of Ed Banger’s roster and the proto-synthwave of Kavinsky and SebastiAn that marked French house’s later, gnarlier wave — and outdoes most of it in the process.

Nate Patrin

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