Think about it: most things in this world are completely utterly average. Nearly everything we consume—visually, aurally, edibly, emotionally, physically, mentally, literally, metaphorically—is just OK. It's incredibly rare that we listen to an album or see a painting or sip a pint or smoke a fag or eat a bag of crisps and stop dead in our tracks to pant with either pure pleasure or shudder all-encompassing revulsion, howling in ecstasy or sobbing in misery. Nearly everything we come into contact with is met by a "yeah, not bad that," and immediately consigned to the gargantuan list of things that were briefly experienced before being discarded with nary a second glance. That, as they say in French, is la vie.
While it'd be good if every song in the world was as incredible as "Behind the Waterfall" by David Lanz or Paul Speer, say, or The Underdog Project's "Summer Jam", think about how exhausting it'd be in reality. Imagine a world where every book brought you to climax, where every spoon of cereal was a trip, every brief glimpse of a ratings-failing BBC 1 sitcom a look into heaven itself. You'd be knackered by the time you got out of the shower. For the sake of a less tiring life, we, as creatures, have decided to embrace mediocrity. We like watercolour paintings of horses, Rich Tea biscuits, and whatever song Simon Mayo's playing on Drivetime when we're on the way home from work.
Mediocrity, then, is human nature. Which is why I think I might actually quite like this record despite it being the most crushingly mediocre, generic, of its time thing that I've heard since, I dunno, "House of Every Weekend." Here, for your pleasure, is the new single by a group called Digital Farm Animals:
"Wanna Know", which comes with artwork straight out of the Provincial-town-does-the-whole-pulled-pork-milkshakes-and-PRB-thing playbook, couldn't sound more now if it tried. Sure, whatever trendy website you read might tell you that, I dunno, Kanye's never-finished experimentation with the notion of the album as an artform is what 2016's all about, or that the new single on Whities is the most accurate reflection of the post-post-capitalist-accelerationist-divisionist society we live in to date, but that's nothing more than fizz and bullshit, rhetorical chips and gravy for the Music Means Something Important brigade. 2016 actually sounds like every year since 1986 has: like a shit nightclub that you pretend to hate but actually, really, are quite fond of.
That's exactly where a record like "Wanna Know" thrives, because spaces like that are custom built for records like this. Records like this, just so you know, sound thusly: FruityLoops Basic House Loop 1 rhythm pattern + shuffle-friendly bassline that sort of sounds quite good until you realize you've mistaken how the bassline sounds with being on shitty fun cheap drugs in a shitty fun cheap club at 4am + melody that's pretty much just the bassline but sounds like an MK remix of it + slightly chopped and partially screwed R&B sample for the vocal. That's what every record you've heard in the back of a taxi past 8pm in the last 18 months has sounded. "Wanna Know" is the unintentional apex of this. We've hit a creative peak when all we were looking for was the flimsiest of cheap thrills.
"Wanna Know" has taught me to embrace the most basic part of myself, the part I've spent the last decade and a half denying. Instead of going, "Actually, I just really like easy to hum along to dance-pop records that sound just as nice when you hear them on the way to the dentists as they do in a club with a bottle of light lager stuffed with a slice of lime," I spent those lost years pretending I gave a toss about Derrida, U.S. Maple and the films of Louis Malle. I didn't. What I wanted, deep down, it turned out, was "Wanna Know" by Digital Farm Animals ft. R Kelly.
Now, I've written about the way baithouse (let's think of the sound I described above as thus) producers use R&B vocals before, but what makes "Wanna Know" interesting—which is no mean feat for a record that's so genuinely dull and uncaptivating—is it marks the creation of a WKD-pissed ouroboros. See that "Feat. R Kelly" up there? They mean it. Robert Sylvester Kelly himself has recorded a vocal for it. A real life, in the studio, sung into a microphone vocal. Which sounds....just like an R Kelly vocal sample. How postmodern is that? That's the kind of thing your really fucking boring boyfriend who drinks soy lattes and rides a bike made out of courgette flowers and gluten free hemp talks about in his post-work reading groups. Get your head around the Baudrillard you mad French bastard!
Jokes aside, there's something incredibly strange and perversely enjoyable about hearing someone literally being turned from a human being into a faceless sample-source in front of your very ears for what seems like literally no reason at all. It's the musical equivalent of asking for jelly and ice cream and then sucking out marrow from a hoof and chowing down on puddles. In this case, R Kelly sounds less like R Kelly than an R Kelly impersonator does, which is strangely impressive. He's been fed through the bait-mincer, emerging out of the otherside as nothing more than just another innofensive layer in an anoydne musical-lasagna. And, actually, that's quite sick.
Here's to "Wanna Work", here's to Digital Farm Animals and R Kelly. Most importantly, here's to mediocrity.