A collection of lovelorn bangers
You don’t have to believe in destiny to suspect that being christened Orlando Higginbottom is going to shape a young man’s future. Orlando Higginbottoms do not, as a general rule, end up manning the phones in provincial call centres. Orlando Higginbottoms are bound for greater things. Mind you, you wouldn’t necessarily expect the Orlando Higginbottoms of the world to become dance producers. Traditionally, the landscape of British club culture has been peopled by chippy-looking young men called things like Dave or Darren who look a bit like how Lynx deodorant smells and specialise in ‘having it large’. Higginbottom – hailing from leafy Oxfordshire, the son of a conductor, classically trained in piano and composition – does not slot cleanly into this mould. Still, if you can’t fit in, you might as well stand out. You might as well dress up in the headdress of a futuristic Native American chieftain. You might as well spray rave with rainbow-bright melodies and exquisite harmonies. You might as well go by a name as ridiculous as Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.
Higginbottom’s debut album as TEED both fits into the lineage of British dance music and stands a little apart. Steeped in ’80s synth-pop, jacking house, vintage acid sounds and contemporary electro, ‘Trouble’ is identifiably club music, but speaks in a language that is personal and warm, taking big-room sounds and distilling them down to something as close and intimate as a tearful late-night voicemail or a whispered conversation on a shared pillow.
TEED’s very earliest material saw the light of day on Hot Chip/2 Bears man Joe Goddard’s Greco Roman imprint, and the Chip themselves have obviously been something of an influence – chiefly, as proof that being a well-educated, middle-class milksop does not necessarily prevent one from bringing the rave. But there are more direct comparisons, too: on tracks like ‘Promises’ and ‘You Need Me On My Own’, Higginbottom’s vocal carries an echo of Alexis Taylor’s anxiously romantic loverman croon, while ‘Panpipes’, with its wonky carnival house percussion and billowing synthesisers, would slot in quite neatly on Hot Chip’s latest long-player. All this isn’t to say TEED are incapable of turning out a proper dance anthem now and again.
Most prominently, there is the fantastic ‘Your Love’, an eccied-up bit of 3am euphoria dotted with crystal-sharp synths, gurgling acid basslines and a proper diva giving it all that, while ‘Household Goods’, a romantic entreaty to a former girlfriend, drops a fat Example-style synth over the chorus with unexpected but thrilling effect. Higginbottom has spoken of the difficulties of writing a dance album with “shelf life”; more than other genres, dance music is a difficult fit for the album format. ‘Trouble’ gets around this by adopting a mood of lovelorn melancholy. “Tell me how you feel/Because I need to know-oh”, he croons on ‘Garden’, a gorgeous, understated duet with Luisa of Lulu And The Lampshades. “Stressed out now/Just take my hand and tell me it’s all good”, goes the wispy, garage-tinged ‘Closer’.
This is a record about low times – of heartbreak and of love unrequited. But Orlando Higginbottom knows that sadness is best worked out on the dancefloor. TEED is a strange beast, for sure – but the good news is that ‘Trouble’ is a quite remarkable specimen.