There are few surer signs that we’re all getting old and are going to die than the cult of nostalgia now forming around classic electronic music. For 30 years, electro, house, techno, and their manifold children and stepchildren were a favorite scapegoat for rock and jazz purists raised on the assumption that anything not played on a conventional instrument isn’t actually music. But now it’s 2015, and an older generation of electro-purists are battening down their own hatches, wielding the standards of “real” DJing (like, with vinyl, not laptops) and manually-programmed beats like totems against the contemporary boogiemen of dubstep and “EDM.” The most recent shot across contemporary electronic music’s bow comes from an especially distinguished source: none other than Los Angeles electro-hop pioneer Greg Broussard, better known as the Egyptian Lover. The name of his new album, naturally, is 1984.
It’s all too easy to peg 1984 as a purely backward-looking album–if not from the title, then from the sound. A cornerstone of Broussard’s pre-release promotion for the record has been that it was recorded entirely on vintage equipment: namely synthesizers, turntables, and a Roland TR-808, the same tools that gave us his mid-’80s classics On the Nile and One Track Mind. The results certainly live up to the hype. Opening track “Into the Future”–an ironic title if ever there’s been one–sounds like a demo reel for the 808’s most iconic features, cycling through handclaps, fluttering backwards cymbals, and “Planet Rock“-style electronic chirps in its early seconds alone. The overall effect is charmingly retro: a shameless bid for ’80s nostalgia, not just for the Lover himself but for the whole milieu in which he operated; now resurrecting the analogue robot-voice of “Scorpio” by Grandmaster Flash, now recalling the sped-up chatter of “Jam on It” by Newcleus.
And I have to admit: it works on me. As a huge fan of ’80s electro, hip-hop, and R&B–Jheri Curl June, anyone?–I suffer from precisely the itch 1984 offers to scratch. I geeked out when I heard the keyboard part to “She’s So Freaky,” which sounds like it was played on the same synthesizers Rick James stole from Prince‘s tour bus. I delighted in every return of the Lover’s trademark heavy-breathing schtick, copped from obscure electro-funkers Ebonee Webb–and, on first single “Freaky Deaky Machine,” embellished with the sound of creaking bedsprings. And I’ll be the first person to admit that the cowbell sample on the 808–used to great effect at the beginning of “Killin’ It”–ranks right up there with raindrops against the window and purring kittens on the list of sounds that make me feel warm and fuzzy.
There are other throwback pleasures, albeit much sillier ones, to be found in the album’s lyrical content. The Lover’s flow is still as charmingly monotone as it was in, well, 1984; his twin obsessions with “freaky” women and Orientalism still brazenly politically incorrect. I shudder to imagine the thinkpieces about cultural appropriation and objectification that would have arisen had songs like “Seduced” or “Belly Dance” been released by a more current (read: famous) artist, but I also can’t work up the ire to take any offense myself: when all is said and done, a 52-year-old man grunting “I like the way you move your assets” over an electronic “Egyptian” melody doesn’t really warrant any reaction more extreme than an affectionate (or derisive) chuckle. The songs on 1984 are electro-hop at its most cartoonish, and all the better for it: just goofy fun, right up to the Halloween-appropriate jam “Zombies” and its poker-faced warnings about “the cadaverous ones.”
So, yes, this new–if also resolutely “old”–Egyptian Lover album gets my wholehearted endorsement. But one thing I won’t do is pit the charms of 1984–the album or the year–against the contemporary musical landscape. That’s because, self-styled retro throwback or not, the Egyptian Lover is already part of that landscape. He isn’t just some relic from the mid-’80s, thawed out Austin Powers-style to remind the Aviciis of the world that a DJ ain’t a DJ if he can’t scratch; he’s a working artist with a 30-year history and real connections to the music of today, from M.I.A. to James Pants to DyE. So, as fun as 1984 is, I for one am hoping that the next album won’t be, say, 1986. Nostalgia is all well and good, but this music is much too vital to rely on it forever.