Felix Da Housecat

Reading Jay McInerney's Model Behavior last week--basically a gloss on the author's celebrated 1987 novel Bright Lights, Big City, with some juicy stuff about sexual jealousy and women's underwear thrown in--I was forced to consider head-on a current pet interest: the recent re-examination of the 1980s as a font of cultural treasures. Before you work yourself into an acid-washed tizzy, know that there are babies in this bathwater: Daft Punk's brilliant Discovery, basically a gloss on the band's celebrated 1997 debut Homework, with a whole bunch of hairy electric guitars and hairless robot harmonies thrown in, suggested last year that French guys in elaborate costumes could sell outré styles back to us as freshly as a Gap ad, while a packed performance by the NYC dance/music/theater ensemble Fischerspooner at New York's Electroclash festival last October proved there's much aggressive recontextualizing to be done.

The dark heart of this revamped '80s fetishism is that it's got no heart at all. In his book--books, I guess--McInerney dug into the chilly flash of the era by emphasizing the hunger for contact not satisfied by a full plate of jewels or stock options or whatever, much like how Bret Easton Ellis, with the interminable lists of name brands and exclusive Manhattan eateries that fill his books, has replicated the decade's material overload by sheer word count. But the balance between satire and homage--or, more pointedly, between genuinely fun and dead boring--is a tricky, sometimes counterintuitive one: Ellis' books are often snoozefests, even if they get their point across in vivid color (or vivid executive gray, as the case may be).

That's why I can't quite come to grips with Kittenz and Thee Glitz, the much-lauded new album by Chicago-based house maestro Felix da Housecat. I've no doubt that Felix loves his source material, which here is the icy electro of the early '80s, the stuff New Order was playing in the video for "Blue Monday" if you had the television muted. And he's certainly got a handle on it, one at least as firm as Daft Punk's Buggles obsession. Still, listening to Kittenz, I can't help but get a little depressed, my muscles atrophying in the face of someone flaunting skill and knowledge and even enthusiasm, yet with no feeling or conviction that what he's doing is anything more than a Levi's campaign waiting to happen. I'm probably wrong, and certainly a victim of grunge-era grandstanding. But shoulder pads make you nervous, too, don't they?

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Mikael Wood