It’s interesting to see how veteran electronic music artists are responding to the new wave of rock-informed (or supposedly rock-informed) acts like Justice, and the looming presence of the reaffirmed, re-ascendant, rock transcendent Daft Punk. While few artists working in this milieu ever find the sunshine beyond Daft Punk’s long shadow, Junkie XL (aka Dutchman-turned-Los Angelino Tom Holkenborg) has, at the very least, the tools and the experience to get out on the field with these young, crossover upstarts. To begin with, Holkenborg fired his own shots across pop culture: His reworking of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” was hot in the early ’00s thanks in part to its inclusion in a Nike World Cup commercial.
So it’s somewhat surprising when the opening track on XL’s new album Booming Back At You sounds like a poppier, runner-up take on Digitalism — the somewhat superfluous, cheesy vocals (“Booming-booming right at you / Booming-booming back at you”) literally shouting what the beat is already saying. Track two, fueled by Lauren Rocket (lead singer of LA up-and-comers Rocket), is a cover of Siouxsie And The Banshees’ “Cities In Dust”, but discards any of the original’s subtlety in exchange for dance floor slam. It doesn’t work either, though the lion’s share of that may due to Rocket’s inability to nail the vocals.
Elsewhere, XL’s collaborations are more fruitful. Golden boy Steve Aoki lends his touch to the pulsing/exploding “1967 Poem”, Electrocute helps buoy the smoky “Mad Pursuit”, and even Lauren Rocket makes a comeback on the Le Tigre-esque “No Way”. Otherwise, Holkenborg actually seems strongest in modes that don’t hew quite so close to those current trends: the playful “You Make Me Feel So Good” and the simple, propulsive “Stratosphere”.
A couple of other tracks are tripped up along the way by more lyrical redundancy (the nearly self-explanatory “More”) and, inexplicably, a crazy lurching momentum (would-be stadium rocker “Clash”). Ultimately, Booming Back At You may be less than the sum of its mixed bag parts, but a few of those parts are pretty exhilarating.