Intelligent Dance Music seems like one of those genres born from a joke. It might not necessarily have been a joke at the expense of the artists who make IDM, but rather a jab at the motivations fans have for listening to the genre. It's easy to imagine somewhere back in 1992 a couple of guys hanging out in their basement spinning their buddies copy of Warp's Artificial Intelligence
compilation and having him explain to them that, "No guys, it's not techno. It's intelligent dance music
". That probably wasn't exactly the case, but the point is that IDM was probably never meant to be taken seriously as a genre. Even many of the leaders of the original movement express dubious sentiments about what the term actually means. Artists like Autechre and Aphex Twin describe it as being "silly" and tongue-in-cheek and either shun the label completely or ignore it in favor of more appealing categorization. As a result, it seems that IDM is a tag lacking any real definition or solid genre conventions. It's more or less "electronic music that people who like radio friendly electronic music won't like", and because of that it seems to make listening to new IDM a bit of a crapshoot. You've got the artists that try (and mostly fail) to sound like later era Autechre with their formless rhythmic experimentation and cold, calculated, emotionless song structures. Then you've got the guys who go for a more ambient, downtempo approach with pads and warm synth lines over less abstract arrangements akin to Boards of Canada or early to mid era Aphex Twin. And then you've got everything in between, from the glitch guys to the breakbeats and so on and so forth. The sheer amount of stuff that gets thrown under the IDM tag fully illustrates why Intelligent Dance Music is ineffective in its ability to place music under its umbrella of definition.
Spark's The Robotic Girl Next Door
is one of those albums that falls somewhere in the confines of the "everything in between" category. The glitchy, chiptune rhythmic backbone is washed over by nostalgic synthesizer leads and thick basslines that are just abstract enough to resist comparisons to the downtempo, Boards of Canada school of artists but not quite theoretical enough to garner any tangible comparison to something like Confield era Autechre or later Aphex Twin. But it is precisely this that makes The Robotic Girl Next Door such an exhilarating listen. It is able to strike an elusive balance between all the elements that get lumped together in the overly-broad definition of Intelligent Dance Music to make an album that satisfies both the visceral and cerebral attitudes towards abstract electronic music. The most essential portion of The Robotic Girl Next Door is the synth work that is present on every single one of the thirteen included tracks. There isn't a portion of the record where the listener is not bombarded with warm synthesizer leads and arpeggiated tones sometimes painted over a backdrop of pads and drifting ambience. The rhythm sections range from simple, dance oriented pulses over thick basslines with a bit of 8-bit chiptune polyrhythm to the more abstract and formless experimentation of tracks like Rebound
or Dream in 8-bit
that occasionally comes to rest on the downtempo nostalgia of the synthesizer work of tracks like Devine Nursery Rhyme or Mad Scientist Vein. It is this expertly balanced amalgamation of direction that allows The Robotic Girl Next Door
to succeed where many others have failed: the triumph of consistency.
With this debut full length, Spark has accomplished what many other artists who make similar music have failed to do. In musical climate that is intimately attached to the expression of extremes in any given direction, The Robotic Girl Next Door
succeeds in its exercise of restraint. It appeals to a lust for the abstract that fuels many of the motivations behind seeking out something labeled Intelligent Dance Music while at the same time appealing to the visceral, emotion driven desire to revisit a piece of music over and over again.