It seems shallow, possibly, to like a record just because it’s cool, but, well, I’m a shallow guy, and sometimes something being very, very cool indeed is more than enough. So step forward Studio, Swedish duo Dan Lissvik and Rasmus Hagg, who, for a brief period in the mid-to-late-00s, played the most amazingly cool, strung-out, ‘Balearic’-tinged, dance-friendly post-punk in the world. Except that “play” probably wassn’t the right word. I’m working on instinct rather than knowledge here (little was written about Studio except feverishly on hip music forums), but I’d imagine that what Studio do is “assemble” their strung-out, ‘Balearic’-tinged, dance-friendly post-punk on a computer. Remember those early CD sleeves with the ADD / AAD / DDD boxes showing whether recording, mixing and mastering were done in analogue or digital? West Coast’s minimal, old-fashioned sleeve proudly proclaims DDD.
You could have thrown Studio in with the crop of European ex-punks making dance waves at around the same time, like Justice, Simian Mobile Disco, or Digitalism, but you’d be doing the Swedes a disservice; post-punks in the club are far more interesting both sonically and formally than your typical punks in the club. As such, West Coast opens with “Out There”, a fifteen-minute instrumental opus that glides through reggae-tinged post-punk guitar shots, glistening keyboard runs, opaque sheets of ambience, and intricate maps of interlocking rhythmic elements, like the soundtrack to an unutterably cool film about cool people in cool European cities. It sets a high bar for the 40 minutes of shimmering, reverbed, hypnotic, and fabricated (in the best possible way) postpunk / disco that follows.
The rest of West Coast, surprisingly, doesn’t disappoint. “Self Service” is unnervingly redolent of the second song suite from A.R. Kane’s still excellent “i”, guitars and drum machines complemented by piano stabs and synthesised steel drums, plus vocal wails not a million miles from Rudi Tambala’s honeyed but fracture-riddled voice. It’s probably the hookiest, straightest ‘pop’ song on the album. Four minutes and twenty-four seconds into “Origin” there’s a layered, gritty, meaty and satisfying barrage of guitars which are simply awesome, sitting atop the groove happily, coloring dirtily into the edges of the soundspace. “Life’s a Beach” reveals what the occasional ‘Balearic’ adjectives are getting at, with its warmly pulsing groove, echoing guitars, take-your-time progression, and “Mmmm Skyscraper I Love You”-esque falling bass-synth runs, all collapsing into (literal) tidal swells and glissando curtains.
There’s a little bit of dub, a smidgen of Krautrock, a whole lot of post-punk, and more than a touch of disco and early ‘90s British and European dance pop in West Coast, all handled beautifully and coalescing into something that, if not unique, is certainly executed with such style and panache and élan that the provenance or context of it doesn’t seem to matter.
Which is fitting, because aside from an armful of remixes (some of them for very significant people) and a couple of compendiums thereof, Studio seemed to dissolve into the ether after West Coast. I’m sure a bit of google-sleuthing would reveal what (if perhaps not why) happened to them, but I like the not knowing. West Coast is a beautiful one-off, sexy and alluring and mysterious, and I’m very happy for it to stay that way. The not knowing makes it even cooler.