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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

Codebreaker’s Short-Attention-Span House Music

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Since their 2003 debut, Codebreaker has juggled the conventions of both live and electronic music, playing four-on-the-floor electro-funk at rock shows and dance clubs alike. Released last week, the Milwaukee duo’s latest album, The Space Chase, is their most electronic-minded to date, an homage to the futurist sounds of early French house music and New York disco. This time out the synthesizers are more dominant, and the songs are longer to better let the grooves ride out. Where singer Steven Hawley’s voice was once a focal point of Codebreaker’s songs, it’s now just an occasional accent.

“This album is more instrumental,” Hawley explains. “The last few years I’ve been listening to movie soundtracks, and so I kind of had this desire to hybrid a lot of the atmospheric textures and vibes from those soundtracks and see how it worked in a dance-music context. It just felt adventurous. I was listening to these ’70s and early-’80s science-fiction soundtracks and just thinking to myself, ‘This would be so cool if there was music that had these textures but was also kind of funky.’”

The Space Chase
, then, is the most club-friendly release yet from Hawley and his multi-instrumentalist collaborator Sage Schwarm, though there are reminders throughout of its creators’ roots outside of the dance scene. “It’s a dance record written by people who didn’t grow up on house music, so we inevitably put a different spin on that style,” Hawley says. Nuanced and varied, the arrangements eschew the repetition of more traditionalist techno and instead draw from pop song structures.

“I need those kind of arrangements to keep things interesting for me, because I have a short attention span,” Hawley says. “I have ADHD, but I think I harness that in a really positive way when I’m making music, because I feel this need to mix it up. Even though I love house music, so much of it just bores the hell out of me, so we tried to write with that in mind. That was really the main drive for the album: us listening to dance music, and saying to each other, ‘OK, these songs are cool, but I wish they’d do a little bit more of this.’ We ended up playing dance music as we wanted to hear it.”

That’s an approach that might not have gone over so well early in Codebreaker’s run, when some electronic-music purists dismissed the band (as well as the whole dance-punk movement they seemed to be a part of at the time) as a novelty. Seven or eight years later, however, blurring live and electronic music conventions is no longer nearly as contentious, Hawley says.

“I think audiences have grown tremendously more open-minded over the last few years,” Hawley says. “There’s a generation of kids that was raised almost from infancy with the Internet, and I think that changes their perspective. A lot of our fans locally seem to be quite young now, which is great, because they’re a lot more culturally curious. Musical and cultural prejudices have really eased. I think we’re living in a much more highly evolved environment now.”

The Space Chase
is on sale now through Amazon.com and iTunes. Codebreaker will play a local album release show at Mad Planet on Saturday, March 5, which they will follow with a tour and performances at Austin’s South by Southwest music festival.
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