Sunday, 4 December 2016

A third breath of Oxygene

The third installment of what has become by now the Oxygene trilogy was released on 2 December.

What made the first Oxygene enduring and extraordinary, even to ears coming across its fluid soundscapes 40 years later, was the fact that in many ways it placed itself outside the language of, albeit early, mainstream electronic music. It was eminently different with its other-wordly, yet accessible, soundscapes and fluid, bubbling, ever-changing structures.

Oxygene 2 was somewhat different, with synth-pop and dance music inflections. The third album cannot escape the compulsion of delving into utterly mainstream and utterly popular sub-genres of electronica.

Its opening is surprising, and surprisingly pleasing, with its scintillating sonic fragments and melodic elements that pop in and out of the sound stage.

The phased vintage string machine pads are present in various places in the album, vintage white noise sweeps and percussion elements, and even the instantly recognizable Elka Synthex (which made Rendez-Vous so magnificent sounding) makes an appearance a few times.

There is pleasing amount of experimentation, there are tracks that sound as if arpeggiators' patterns were chopped randomly to pieces and the melodic fragments bubble up unpredictably from the depth of closing and opening filters.

However, the predictable appearance of in-your-face electronic dance music tracks are quite jarring again. The lush soundscapes being suspended by trendy thumping of not only predictable, but terribly banal and already over-used, beat patterns is not exactly a positive effect. There is Jarre inventiveness at work, but the cliched drum patterns are just too... cliched to ignore.

As with Oxygene 2, the complete changes in mood and direction with much too ordinary dancey interludes manage to utterly ruin the otherwise cohesive flow of the album.

The changes in dynamics and effervescence is not a problem, even the first album had its gear shifts that were perfectly blended with the other tracks - but it would be great to hear any intriguing or innovative spins on mainstream electronica, instead the very tired deja-entendu patterns.

As someone remarked about the deplorable Theo & Thea album some years ago, it would be good to leave the forays into dance electronica to those who do it best - and with innovative ideas.

Otherwise, if we discount the jarring (and unfortunately jarringly banal) outings into EDM territory, Oxygene 3 is again quite a remarkable achievement with eminently state-of-the-art technology behind it.

It is quite endearing, that Jarre in 2016 can still stay fresh and full of ideas, and we tend to take for granted the not everyday feast of being able to keep up to speed with the exponential increase (and at extremely fast pace) of electronic sound producing software and hardware.

It sets an example to many electronic musicians who not only get stuck in their ways, but even start out with genre cliches and are are completely in the grips of the technology that they choose to use.

Imaginative, ever-changing, fluid and surprising in many places - Oxygen 3 delivers. If only we could somehow make abstraction of the intrusions of off-the-shelf EDM sonorities that pop up in a few places...

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