Hipsters must be pissed. As the reigning monarchs of pretentiousness and low-fi credibility, these frumpy-haired legions of tight-asses wearing jeans three sizes too small are now in danger of losing their pride and joy to the mainstream. In the past three years, dance rock and indie-infused nobodies have rocketed into the public eye to usher in the era of Ipod and myspace. Album sales are no longer the benchmark of budding talent, no matter how stubbornly the RIAA refuses to think otherwise. The question is whether or not Indie will now be allowed to flourish more than it ever has before or become an even more enticing prize for faltering record companies. In any case, a hell of a lot more people now have access to musical styles that were once only the mainstays of college radio and snooty dorm rooms.
What do you get when you mix The Breeders, Blondie, a fat injection of electronica, and Myspace Indie cred? Well, you get Prototypes, a three-piece Paris act that sinks its teeth into the New Wave formula. There’s the attractive and punchy female singer, the “I’m cooler than thou” hipster garbs, and plenty of electronica-infused hooks in the music. And Prototypes are not afraid to take full advantage of the new opportunities given to burgeoning artists who have access to cutting MP3s. Hell, the band even had a song in an Ipod commercial last year.
Music acts from mainland Europe have never gained much steam overseas. Though droves will flock to Frankfurt to see Green Day play a sold-out arena, we Americans tend not to buy into music we can’t decipher immediately. The language barrier is real, but mainland Europe’s failure to permeate the US is due to other reasons. One is that Americans who aren’t rolling with a glowstick on their weekends avoid techno like the plague. We like to grind to hip-hop. But the people who loathe hip hop (except for maybe The Roots) still need something to dance to in order to get some ass. The compromise between hip-hop and techno is hipster dance rock.
Prototypes generously dish out plenty of danceable tracks on their eponymous American debut album. The fourteen-song ride through pounding percussion and synthesizer glaze incorporates music from their previous two European releases. The music isn’t terribly complex. The opening “Je Ne Te Connais Pas” largely sets the stage for the rest of the album with its three chord progression and “yeah, yeah, yeah” chorus. This isn’t to say that Prototypes are derivative simply because they’re simple. If modern dance rock has its roots in 1980s New Wave, then that simplicity is its saving grace from the posh of synth-pop and the fluff of studio dance pop. Furthermore, Prototypes employ a number of interesting quirks and inject their sound with everything from folk (“Gentleman”) to 1960s Hammond organ-driven rock (“Dis Moi”). Even if these songs are three-minute square pegs that fit in the square holes, there’s enough variety across Prototypes to make it sound fresh.
The name of the game here is throbbing beats, ripping guitar, and plenty of frothy synth underneath it all. “Un Brin De Fierte” has barking guitars that have so much fuzz they sound like big band horns. The start/stop dynamics give way to a charging chorus of François Marché’s ‘50s rock-styled guitar leads and Isabelle Le Doussal’s bullhorn declarations. Keyboards burp and chirp like a chorus of robotic frogs on the neo-disco “Medicalement” and electronic percussion beats like a tire iron on “Danse Sur La Merde.” Le Doussal lets sexy drip through her voice that has just enough breath and playfulness to put her in the running for a regional New Wave title.
Despite the pulsating energy and exuberant styling of the French trio, the album peters out past the ten song mark. The horribly repetitive Devo-styled “Fils De Bourge” and the quirky-but-stupid “Who’s Gonna Sing” pull Prototypes down after what should have been a ten or twelve song album. Though Prototypes seems like candy fluff to the casual listener, the patient will uncover a talented group that pulls all the right stuff from their influences and leaves behind the fat.