Truth be told, Rocks Off just didn't care much for Area 51, the last album by Mike Naus, better known as Vertigo Blue. Frankly, the fault must lie with us, since he was recognized on the Entry List for Nominations for the 50th Annual Grammy Awards with the title track in the Dance category as well as receiving five Revolutions Awards including Best Album (Electronica) in 2009.
Maybe it was because we felt the album in no way captured Naus's truly dynamic live performance style. You may not believe that one man trapped behind a keyboard with a Vocoder could be as high-energy and physical as a Red Hot Chili Peppers show, but you'd be wrong. It was our respect for Naus's showmanship that led us to agree to tackle reviewing his newest release, Evolution, an album long delayed due to various health problems Naus has suffered, as well as severe damage to his Galveston home in Hurricane Ike. To our surprise, relief, and delight, Evolution is a phenomenal work.
The album's eight songs tend towards a more light-hearted approach than the darker-themed Area 51. Normally this would count as a negative with us, but here it's absolutely essential to breathing vigor into the often minimalist EBM Naus is performing.
The tracks tend much more towards straight vocalization than the more sample-driven work of old, and you come to discover that there is a pretty talented set of pipes in the big man's throat. "I am thinking more from Electronica to electro-pop. I definately wanted to go in the direction I went with this album," says Naus. Electro-pop is a good word, and a fine line to draw in the sand. If you are one of those people who enjoyed the Living in Oblivion compilations that made the rounds, this is a perfect album for you.
"Pretty" is damn near a straight pop song, but with just enough of the classic darkwave synth watermarks to keep it at home in the clubs and on the iPods of stompy boot-wearers. It even has guitars on it, and we thought we'd see Jesus before we'd see guitars on a Vertigo Blue album. Perhaps the thing we most enjoy about Evolution is its utter refusal to be overworked. If it were possible for a dance guru to be a singer-songwriter, Naus would be it. He has mastered the art of stripping a song down to its danceability and its message. He turns repetition from tedium to the holiness of a chant, and the result rarely if ever bores.
Naus even turns a winking eye at himself and his own genre with one of the best tracks on the album, "80s Love Song." To compare a lover's affection to an era known for its eye-rolling avant-gardeness in electronic alternative music takes both conviction and a good sense of music. Naus has both, as well as plenty of talent. Fans of Naus' previous work need not fear. For instance, Naus has not abandoned his love of space and close encounters of the third kind. Fans will be right at home with tracks like "U.F.O. Abduction" and "You Caught Me Off Track."
However, it is best to be prepared for the promise emblazoned across the cover. The album is an evolution for one of Houston's most respected practitioners of the electric arts. Naus is coming up on his 300th live show, and has opened for the greats of the genre. Everyone from Nitzer Ebb to A Flock of Seagulls has utilized Naus's work ethic and skills to pump up a crowd for them. We look forward to his performance opening for Peter Murphy at Numbers this Saturday.
Evolution is available online from Outbound Music.