Classixx could be all things to all people: dance music that works as pop music with an indie sensibility. The LA-based duo have been blog favourites for the better part of a decade, and in a world where Daft Punk’s comeback never happened their 2013 debut Hanging Gardens would have been the peak of nu-disco revivalism. Faraway Reach picks up exactly where they left off: tropical sounds and feel-good vibes.
Just look at the names of some of these tracks. ‘Grecian Summer’, ‘Pure Distraction’, ‘Just Let Go’. If Faraway Reach is anything, it’s consistent in its pursuit of escapist pleasures. It’s the kind of sunny dance-pop that’s been quietly popular over the past decade – think Aeroplane and Todd Terje. But the emphasis is predominantly on the pop half of the equation, as nine of the album’s twelve tracks feature guest vocalists, ranging from indie acts like De Lux and Panama, to dance-punk figures like Holy Ghost’s Alex Jenkel and even Autotune star T-Pain.
But despite the variety of guest stars, Faraway Reach feels oddly bland. The album drifts by, its predominantly mid-tempo grooves characterised by indistinct melodies and unremarkable lyrics. Most of the featured vocalists seem to lack personality too: whether it’s Passion Pit, Panama or Isles, Faraway Reach is plagued by the sound of male falsetto, strained where it should be euphoric and brittle where it should be soft. Even T-Pain’s instantly-recognisable vocodorised hedonism is neutered by context. Music designed to be utopian fantasy requires better voices than this – there’s nothing here to rival the diva performance of Nancy Whang’s ‘All You’re Waiting For’, the most promising track from their debut.
It’s easy to pin the blame on their collaborators, but Classixx reveal their own shortcomings with the instrumentals. Opener ‘Grecian Summer’ demonstrates the problem clearly: it’s a catchy, deep house-influenced workout, with delirious cut-up vocals, chiming chords and a rich bassline. But the production sounds cheap and brash, a mix of unsophisticated preset sounds, the effect like trying to paint a watercolour with crayons. There are some moments of excellence – ‘Just Let Go’ survives a mauling from How To Dress Well’s singing to work as piano-house bliss, and ‘Ndivile’ borrows just enough from African kwaito house to sound fresh. But such moments feel like fortunate accidents than the work of skill and design.
Faraway Reach feels like a throwback to the short-lived ‘nu-rave’ scene. Not because the album sounds particularly ravey – its beachside exoticism is a million miles removed from the sweat and the danger of warehouse sounds – but in that it feels like dance music presented for indie fans. But fans of dance music will baulk at the ugly sound design, indie fans will find it too lightweight, and pop fans will be left wondering where the hooks are. There’s a half-heartedness in the approach, a sense of ‘will this do?’ Even at the world’s most wonderful locations you can still send tacky postcards.