JD Samson (MEN, Le Tigre) Talks Tensnake’s Glow

Tensnake is a man who makes dance music. And, quite humbly, he makes the music dance too. He’s a man who gives respect to those for whom it is due:

Tensnake is a man who makes dance music. And, quite humbly, he makes the music dance too. He’s a man who gives respect to those for whom it is due: the players, singers, groovers, and shakers. He finds the rhythm that we lost somewhere through this dusty stretch of time, brings it to the front, and puts in on a pretty good track. But, all of the compliments aside, his debut album Glow made me question whether Tensnake (aka the German producer and DJ born Marco Niemerski) can make the music his own and to create a brand-new sound with the cut-up pieces of what inspires him, or if he is just really good at imitation.

Let’s dig deeper. This is a man who introduces his first album with a beautiful intro (“First Song”) and closes it with a very Brian Eno-sounding outro (“Last Song”), both of which I give much respect to. I get the feeling his intention is that one will listen to this as an album, a full-length project, a gift to the world. But unfortunately, he may have lost his way, or is telling a story I don’t understand. I can’t say for sure, but it’s a schizophrenic journey from “First Song” to “Last Song” that I’m not 100% sure he intended.

For me, things consistently switch from yes to no on Glow. The throwbacks to the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and even today honestly excite me, because the energy is somehow sublime, and the melodies fit perfectly into their rhythmic holes, but in truth, at the end of it all, some of those songs seem like reductive adaptations that don’t carry me into a fresh zone of now. And that’s why I came here. I wanted to be surprised, I wanted to hear experimentation, I wanted a “revolution,” and all I got was just what I expected. So in a sense this record is awesome, and in a sense, this record falls flat.

Maybe it’s because the disco/house memories wrap us up in nostalgia blankets and send us to the club. I actually love it, and I’m thrilled in many ways, but I wish there was something extra. A cherry on top. “Pressure,” the third track, is great, and I can’t help imagining it as a feminist anthem (“Baby, baby, Imma stand my ground/The man will never, ever get me down” sings guest star Thabo) for the nu-disco club scene, because then I would feel the freshness. I would feel the purpose more, but it is what it is, and it’s ripe for covers (maybe I’ll make one), or commercials (dare I say).

Tensnake does take us somewhere brand-new with “No Colour,” and the juxtaposition hits me like a ton of bricks. Where am I? What happened to that other groove I met a couple tracks ago? I’m at a club and the DJ changed — a new decade, a new focus. I’m OK with the shift, but I didn’t expect it. Maybe that’s a gift. So hold on, give me a second to regroup… then during that time, I’m realizing that perhaps I should be a bit more critical of the curation of these 16 tracks.

My favorite song is one minute and 39 seconds long and it feels like it was probably an afterthought. “Listen Everybody” is like when the sun all of a sudden finds its way out of the clouds and into your face on a cloudy day. The way the vocal rhythm fights with the piano is abrasive and aggressive, and at the same time gentle and delicate. This is where I wanted to go. This song is the beginning of the best song I’ve ever heard. But that song doesn’t exist! You have it in you, Tensnake! I see it! Now stop teasing me!

The previously released tracks “See Right Through” and “58 BPM” (both included here, both featuring the singer Fiora Cutler) remind me how great Tensnake’s tracks sound as EPs, and I wonder if this record is a bunch of them strung together. And then I ask myself, is being a full-length record what makes me more critical of the work? Maybe the intro/outro tracks led me to believe it was going to feel more cohesive and that that’s what let me down.

I did enjoy most of this record, but it ended up feeling more like the Indie Dance Top 16 chart rather than one cohesive record from one very talented man. And although that’s a positive review, I’m critical of the overall continuity. But perhaps I’m too demanding, or perhaps Tensnake intended to create this juxtaposition, this jumbled story.

I’m left sitting at my desk with headphones on, wondering why. I wish this record had a phone number on it so I could call him and ask, “Dear Mr. Tensnake, do you want to have a coffee and talk about your concepts? I want to know more about you.”

JD Samson is a musician/producer/artist living in Brooklyn. She is one third of feminist punk band Le Tigre and lead singer of the band MEN. You can follow her on Twitter here.