There are glimpses of Vitalic’s old energy on Voyager, but he’s dialed back on the maximalist energy that made his dancefloor anthems radiate.
Pascal Arbez-Nicolas has spent years trying to wriggle free of Vitalic’s 2001 breakthrough debut Poney EP. It still casts a long shadow; the chain-driven turbo-fluttering hiss of “La Rock 01” and the horror/euphoria grind of “Poney Part 1” were the early alley-oops to the monster jams of Ed Banger’s mid-’00s heyday. But after OK Cowboy fleshed out his geeked-out aggro electro-house and Flashmob let it grow even wilder, Rave Age revealed the limits of his overblown attack: sooner or later, like any powerful drug, all you get from ramping up the dosage is a baseline feel of familiar getting-by normality.
Voyager comes more than a decade after OK Cowboy amplified Vitalic’s thrilling role in the French Touch scene, and it feels like it. There are glimpses of the old feverish energy on the record—Arbez can still bring the no-fucking-around 4/4 with big stompy kicks—but to what end, it’s never entirely clear. The one thing you could definitely expect from a Vitalic record, good or bad, was abrasion. But Voyager power-washes all the distortion away, leaving a shiny surface that feels anonymous in its spotlessness.
Without that leviathan hum, a lot of Voyager’s cuts stall out at “mildly exciting.” Most of the music’s your standard uptempo placeholder dance, detached from fleeting trends but also uninterested in finding a new niche. It’s not like Vitalic-Goes-Synthwave would be a guaranteed improvement over the water-treading stasis of tracks like “Levitation” or “Use It or Lose It,” but it’d at least hint at something besides an effort to carry a torch for blog house when everyone else has moved to different platforms.
The ostensible anthems on Voyager range from meaningless sincerity (the downtempo loneliness-cliche checklist “Don’t Leave Me Now”) to meaningless goofiness (“Sweet Cigarette” is more or less what would happen if “Warm Leatherette” was about Christopher Buckley’s “Thank You for Smoking” instead of JG Ballard’s “Crash”). And the closest things get to an engagingly scuzzy headfirst dive into the weirder corners Vitalic used to skulk around in is “Hans Is Driving,” another downtempo navelgazer that sounds like a cruel parody of Drive-chic and features Miss Kittin evoking Euro-club aimlessness. It’s the kind of stuff that really works when there’s no shame and no half-measures, but Voyager’s attempts to pay homage to disco ancestors while paring his maximalism way back make it all feel like a dance night in an unfurnished room, all speakers and no lighting.