Chris D’Eon is a strange bloke. The Hippos In Tanks press release presents him as a precocious talent, who at the age of four, when most children haven’t even learned to write yet, was already working with synthesisers and sequencers on what were going to be the first outlines of his future work. It’s hard to believe in such an immense talent, although that’s what literature is for, feeding dreams. A voracious student of different musical traditions, his body of styles includes house and 80’s pop, American minimalist music, and different Asian folkloric languages; this last interest led him in 2008 to leave his job and his city, Montreal, to go to the foot of the Himalaya to study Tibetan music cloistered in a tantric Buddhist monastery. As a latter-day hippy, then, and until very recently a wanderer, our fashionable Canadian bears a certain resemblance to another of the men of the season, the mystical, somewhat ragged musician for Warp who answers to the name of Gonjasufi. But we shouldn’t get too carried away with their similarities: Gonjasufi is a man of deserts and visions who whistles gutturally over a tapestry of breaks and progressive samples; D’Eon, on the other hand, is an urbanite transplanted to the highest mountaintops, a practitioner of meditation and yoga who empties his mind –and who also tries to empty ours—of all thought, in search of ecstasy, with a music that has an electronic texture and warm effect.
There is another similarity that distances –excuse the contradiction– Gonjasufi from D’Eon. Their song-writing implies a criticism of the world as we know it, but the first is combative and aware, while the second is basically escapist. When he returned from Nepal in 2009, D’Eon found the Western world in crisis, immersed in a financial chaos that had swallowed up his former job and put him out on the street. It is this shock that guides “Palinopsia”: he approaches it as a sort of soothing in the midst of chaos, and this is where the trip to the past —happy times— comes in, symbolised by house, disco, and synthesised pop music. Having said this, the album is a little kitsch (or we should say, pastiche), but it’s also magnificent, and it’s this initial uncertainty that gives it a valuable presence. The beginning, for example, is a space intro –it reminds one of Vangelis’ “Albedo 0.39”, we could almost say that it’s a copy without the voice-over– leading into “Almost of Our Time”, a little disco jewel in which Belgian new beat, italo, and boogie rhythms appear without ever diluting the space intention and the pop resource. A big Steve Reich fan as well, Chris D’Eon seeks at all times to blend the avant-garde with the popular, in what would be his attempt to be the sorcerer’s apprentice to Arthur Russell. But starting with “Recession Proof ($40 Paycheque)” his taste for 80’s FM AOR pop, the soundtrack to “Risky Business”, and the heroes of progressive rock takes over—so much so that his voice trembles, seeming more like Phil Collins than like Russell.
All of “Palinopsia” is a play of these violent contrasts. “What We Want to Be” seems like an old Technotronic song, while “2040” explores his krautrock side. Instead of deciding to take a break in the middle section of the album, that’s when the flood of Martian tunes begins: “Kill a Man with a Joystick in Your Hands” is a mixture of crunk beat boxes, Hindu music, and electronic psychedelics for new recruits to new age who are fans of Lil Wayne; or “Keep the Faith”, which is the non-existent connection between Chromeo and Dalai Lama; there is even a Balearic ending, as if it had been taken from Tangerine Dream’s phase with the Innovative Communication label, in the form of “Across the Sea”. So it’s one thing or another: either D’Eon is a misunderstood visionary genius, like Gonjasufi, or he has escaped from a funny farm instead of leaving a monastery of his own volition. There might be a third possibility, that he is an eccentric with too many references, too many ideas, and in too much of a hurry to set them all down in a coherent way on an album. D’Eon is that type of singular artist: his uncontrollable appetite leads him to master a variety of languages, making him into a sound alchemy time bomb for the future. Here, in “Palinopsia”, he may have got ahead of himself and, while some parts work like a Japanese train service, others have seams that are too easily spotted. And nevertheless, it’s one of the meteorites of the year, an incomparable oddity that could only come out of the Hippos In Tanks laboratory, as the (even logical) crossing of Oneohtrix Point Never with Peter Gabriel in an over-40’s discotheque, where they play italo all night long. We urgently need the second part.