Shit Robot née Marcus Lambkin waited 20 whole years to drop his first legit studio album. That’s a long time. But good things come to those who wait, and 20 years is none too long for this dance music veteran. Born in Dublin, Lambkin immigrated to the United States after winning the U.S. Green Card Lottery, easily making him one of the luckiest DJs in history. So what did he do once he got to the States? He partied, of course (!), becoming a regular at NYC venues like Limelight, Sound Factory and Save the Robots.
Part of the reason Lambkin waited as long as he did to release a full-length album is because he never really saw himself as an album artist, evidenced especially by the fact that he didn’t write any of the lyrics, only the music. Lambkin was a prominent fixture on the East Village DJ scene in the early ’90s, and has been a player at DFA (Death From Abroad) Records for a while. But now, let the club kids dance: Shit Robot’s debut From the Cradle to the Rave is easily the hottest Electronica album of the year – well worth the 20-year wait.
The album is Electronica that goes down smooth but not without a little groove. You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a dance record that’s going to make you sweat your weave out on the dancefloor. These carefully curated collections of songs are not huge, soaring club-anthems: there’s a subtlety to the material – even in the more upbeat tracks – and fans of Electronica/DFA will rejoice.
The best way to describe the album sound is “chill” – as in, “this is the chillest album ever.” It sounds like something I’d jive to at the Hudson Hotel, cocktail in hand, where DFA DJs spin the decks every Wednesday night. That “downtown” texture comes from the label’s unique sound – disco with synths plus a little funk – that over the years has become the soundtrack of New York cool. And there’s a reason: everybody at DFA got their hands on the thing. Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor guest stars in “Losing my Patience, ” Nancy Whang of The Juan MacLean pops up in the beautiful “Take ’Em Up,” not to mention James Murphy’s final production polish.
Thematically, this is an album about a love of the dance floor. And given Lambkin’s key role in the NYC dance music scene, you might think of the record as a kind of sonic autobiography. From the Cradle to the Rave opens with “I Found Love,” the track that ultimately sets the tone for the rest of the album with its intentionally slow but groovy pulse, pitched against the phrase “I found love through the discotheque” echoing throughout. To my ears, “Tuff Enuff” is the most DFA inspired song on the whole record, and I can see myself blasting that one in my apartment for playlists to come. Musically, “Tuff Enuff” has virtually the same sonic structure as LCD Soundsystem’s summer jam “Dance Yrself Clean,” which is also on virtually all of my playlists.
My favorite moment in the album is the so-subtle-you’ll-miss-it-if-you’re-not-paying-attention transition between the head-bob inducing track “Losing My Patience” featuring Alexis Taylor, and the totally chillaxed vibe of “Take ’Em Up” featuring Nancy Whang. “Losing My Patience” powers forward with a rhythmic, disco-tinged video game sound with Alexis’ ghostly voice floating on top. When “Take ’Em Up” comes on, Nancy’s voice seems to take over right where Alexis’ left off, and the rhythm is pulled back, practically divided in half. The effect is that, together, “Losing My Patience” and “Take ’Em Up” bleed into one 14-minute song – if you let them. When I first gave the album a listen, I actually thought the song just kept going. It’s a neat effect, and reminds me of Arcade Fire’s “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” which changes rhythm and keys halfway through. For the beat obsessed among you, skip to “Grim Receiver,” “I Got a Feeling” and “Simple Things (Work It Out),” three tracks that will surely put a little extra bounce in your afternoon jog, a little more “diva” in your dance steps.
Bottom line: if you’re a dance music aficionado, then this is the record for you.
Usually when I buy a new album I zoom in on the songs I like, tossing out the other fluff. But there is no fluff here. After jiving to From the Cradle to the Rave, the only thing I want to do is skip back to the previous song and keep the groove alive. And by the time the appropriately titled last song “Triumph!!!” storms through – which just has to be about finally releasing an album after 20 years – you’re ready to go to back to the party. A Triumph indeed.