Performance art duo Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom created some people’s fave track of 2004 with their side project Black Leotard Front. A 15-minute odyssey of space funk, “Casual Friday” reconfigured the nightclub glitterball as a wondrous polyhedron-faceted planet. It also pointed to an underacknowledged interzone connecting prog and disco, based in the genres’ shared penchant for long instrumentals, flashy musicianship, and post-hippie utopianism. On their debut album, DG & GR continue their kosmisch quest to locate the missing link between Manuel G E2-E4 and Sueño Latino’s “Sueño Latino.” But they’ve dropped the beat, leaving just the pulse. The sequenced flutter of “Rise” creates a paradoxical feeling of serene tension, “Relevee” braids arpeggiated synth lines into a gently writhing spire of sound, “13 Moons” wafts veil after veil of shimmering translucence, and the closing “Black Spring” is like tantric sex, minus the sex. Fabulous stuff, but make no mistake, DFA hip factor notwithstanding, this isn’t “the latest thing.” It’s actually a time-travel trip back to ’70s analog synth rock. The sheer expanse of The Days of Mars (four pieces in 50 minutes) recalls the album-side-long canvases daubed by such as Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze, and Tim Blake. Russom, his beard blending indistinguishably into his long, lank locks, even resembles one of those Kraut-rockers who turned New Agey, like Deuter.
Frenchman Jackson Fourgeaud approaches the prog-disco zone from a different angle, tapping into the ’70s monsterbands’ proclivity for bombast, disjointed structures, and ornate arrangements. It’s not just the title of the opener, “Utopia,” that recalls Todd Rundgren, it’s the high vocal (beseeching “Have you really thought about utopia?”) and the production’s quality of “altitude” (what Graham Massey of progtronica outfit 808 State identified as the studio wizard’s hallmark). At times Smash resembles the step beyond Discovery that some of us hoped Daft Punk would make with Human After All. But truthfully the album ranges much further afield, connecting DAF’s industrial disko to ELO/10cc-style art-pop kitsch, and welding heavy rock’s juddering thunderbeats to house and trance’s rippling, ecstastic riffs. Sometimes it’s all too much (curse perhaps of this being a Computer Band and therefore prone to that digital temptation to nuance and layering, as opposed to Delia & Gavin’s analog-induced minimalism). But in the end, you gotta say yes to this excess. Yes please and merci beaucoup.