Now that synthesizers have seeped into the spinal fluid of even the most diluted pop, Korg-encrusted hard rock dates itself instantly. The singles off Van Halen’s 1984 might still flicker through the FM classics circuit, but the keyboard slashes across “Jump” now merely lacerate the flexed muscles of Eddie Van Halen’s flame-red licks. On its own 1984, Hortlax Cobra–the solo endeavor of Peter, Bjorn and John’s John Eriksson–extracts those neon ornaments from their rock heritage and sets them loose in a pixellated landscape where they can live by their own rules.
Though it’s not quite a tribute, 1984 clings to the exoskeleton of the Van Halen classic. The title of each track is identical on both albums, the song lengths match, and Eriksson maintains each song’s original tempo and key. It’s no stretch to read this superficial faithfulness as a meditation on the ways we process music in 2012. In lieu of boxes full of objects, we hoard invisible data that are unrecognizable until opened and heard.
Hortlax Cobra’s second release of the year flows like data. Gentle electronic patterns waft in and out of the foreground; what few lyrics there are come crunched through a vocoder. The dancehall adrenaline of Eriksson’s solo debut Night Shift ebbs away here to a textural reflection on the accelerating mutation of music and its technology.
The concept intrigues, but such strict adherence to the parameters of the original 1984 spreads Hortlax Cobra’s rendition a little thin. Songs like “Hot For Teacher” run out of steam ahead of their required runtime and end up filling the gaps with aimless static and faraway doodles. While the record at its best funnels Van Halen’s boisterous spirit into delightful synthetic textures, this 1984 finds its legs buckling somewhere in the yawning gap between testosterone-flooded ’80s rock and abstract electronica.
Essential Tracks: “Girl Gone Bad”