The crashing tidal wave that is the EDM movement appears to have claimed its latest victim. Wolfgang Gartner took five long years to follow up his 2011 studio album debut Weekend in America, and as sad as it is to say, what he’s finally delivered in the form of 10 Ways to Steal Home Plate is simply too little too late.
Considering that health issues necessitating an extended touring hiatus befell the Kindergarten Recordings founder in 2015, it almost seems appropriate to give him some kind of pass on his sophomore album’s shortcomings – until you remember how outspoken he’s been against the homogenization of electronic music in the past. In a 2013 interview, he asserted that “the ‘big’ sound in dance music right now is just this mashup of every single subgenre possible, to try and appeal to the most people possible, with these cheesy played-out trance pads and vocal hooks.”
10 Ways might not be rife with trance pads (except for “Saved,” which is about as shamelessly festival as a track can get), but it’s an unmistakable stylistic surrender. Where Weekend saw the producer solidify his dissonant, post-blog house style of electro house with challenging tracks like “Spacejunk” and “The Champ,” much of what he’s released today through his own label leans towards the funky future disco that Daft Punk fetishized with Random Access Memories – except that they actually did a decent job, and they did it three years ago.
As far as cheesy vocal hooks are concerned, however, the album might as well be a promotional vehicle for vocalists and emcees ranging the pop music spectrum; every single track is so littered with vocal top lines that they overshadow what semblance of the Wolfgang Gartner production style remains. Just for starters, what possessed an artist with such supposed integrity to start an album off with a cringeworthy track titled “Turn Up” might forever be a mystery.
From there, 10 Ways follows a tragically riskless course. “Looking for You” featuring Negin Djafari hints at a straight-up musical regression – it’s more similar to Gartner’s 2009 remix of Tiësto’s “I Will Be Here” than anything he released after he honed in on his signature sound. Completely devoid of the sterile chirps and hums that became his calling card, it could have been made by anyone for anyone.
Up next is “Hurricane Slurricane,” which would make for a passable disco track if not for the vapid lyrical contributions of emcee E-40. He should stick to making ringtone rap songs like “Function,” because the track might have been perfectly functional if not for his verses.
After the aforementioned “Saved,” two tracks so interchangeable that they hardly bear mention follow in the form of “Replay” and “Y.W.M.O.” “Faded” featuring Marc Griffin is more of the same, save for brief instances during which Gartner’s style manages to actually cut through the noise.
Perhaps the worst offender of the whole album is “Feel Right” featuring JHart, which sounds even more sickeningly main stage than “Saved.” Everything about the track is a betrayal of what Gartner is supposed to be about – to the point that you almost have to question whether he was even the one who put in the studio hours responsible for it.
To make 10 Ways even more backwards, its best song is the tenth and final track, “Up In Smoke.” It likely owes much of its appeal to the fact that it was a collaboration between Gartner and decorated DJ/producer A-Trak – but alas, even A-Trak couldn’t save the album.
In short, Wolfgang Gartner’s 10 Ways to Steal Home Plate is too forgettable to become anyone’s summer soundtrack, yet somehow still too distracting to function as background music. The only thing his sophomore album has working in its favor is that vanilla as they may be, its songs are not just flat-out poorly put together. Gartner at least retained the professionalism to put out finished work, even though it left much to be desired from a conceptual standpoint.
Considering what he left behind, though, it’s not enough. Every producer in the world of EDM dreams of fine-tuning their creative process to the point that they can boast a style that’s uniquely their own. Nobody’s suggesting that an artist should refrain from evolving or trying new things – but when one so famously critical of the mainstream abandons their trademark sound to put out tracks that might as well have been released by anyone, it’s hard not to file them under “sellout.”
For the legacy Wolfgang Gartner has built for himself as the purveyor of a unique and instantly recognizable brand of electro house, his sophomore album, 10 Ways to Steal Home Plate, is an unfortunate disappointment.