Various Artists

After Dark

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A limited-edition CD-R that functioned as both an introductory label sampler and a roundup of the first several 12" releases on the fledgling Italians Do It Better imprint, After Dark presents a sleekly sinister style of synthetic dance music that recalls the decadent overtones of early-2000s electroclash but finds a more direct stylistic referent in vintage electronic disco from around 25 years prior. The name of the New Jersey-based label (run by Mike Simonetti of Troubleman Unlimited) suggests a link with Italo disco, a genre that was very much coming into vogue when these sides were released in 2007, but despite a preponderance of relentless robotic synthesizers, the music here is a far cry from the giddy sentimentality and synth pop melodicism often associated with that style (and as heard, for instance, in the classicist Italo revivalism of Sally Shapiro, among others). The tracks collected here turn instead on haunted minor-key vamps, torpid tempos, cheap-sounding synths, and stripped-down, almost rudimentary percussion, creating a consistent, rather dour atmosphere that feels anachronistically musty but not quite retro. This sharply defined aesthetic must be credited in large part to producer Johnny Jewel, who has a hand in the music of three of the five artists represented here. He's a member of both Glass Candy and Chromatics (each of which had existed as post-punk-styled rock bands before effecting this transformation into what could be tagged post-disco), and he also produces here for Farah, a Plano, TX-based vocalist/lyricist who doesn't sing so much as intone, in both English and Farsi, with a devastating dispassion. Her "Law of Life," a dead-eyed, post-apocalyptic sermon declaimed over Jewel's spare, unrelenting jittery thud, is the compilation's most bleakly nihilistic moment, though it has some competition from Chromatics' standout "In the City," a dreamier but no less creepy track whose soporifically dripping synths, muted guitar glimmers, and fluid string lines induce a sweet-but-deadly hypnosis beneath singer Ruth Radelet's bleary croons of "shining violence." Glass Candy's kickoff, "Rolling Down the Hills," is a crackly, horn-fueled strut that could pass for straight-up old-school disco, at least if it were sped up a few notches, while the contributions by Professor Genius and Mirage skew closest to classic Italo -- the former offering up a pair of Moroder-esque synthesizer workouts; the latter gilding their midtempo keyboard fantasias with menacingly alien vocoders. Mirage also turn in an excellent, understated robotified rework of Indeep's classic "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life," which, alongside a generous selection of covers (three of them by Glass Candy, including a beguiling take on Kraftwerk's "Computer Love"), helps to establish a strong sense of reverence for and continuity with dance music's disco and not-quite-disco past. Boasting a strong sense of cohesion but a decent amount of variety, and plenty of highlights, After Dark amply demonstrates that electronic disco is alive and flourishing in the late 2000s, and that Italians -- at least these wanna-be Italians -- do it very well.

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