As the arc of his career has suggested, we are a long way away from "Dexter." Even though everything here is most definitely danceable, the sort of house music that Villalobos makes is basically out somewhere in the minimal hinterlands along with a couple of Romanian friends and no one else. The focus is on challenging himself—not audiences, despite message board belief—to go further in his previously stated ambition of combining acoustic and electronic sounds. It's not achingly beautiful. It is achingly impressive though.
In the past four years, Villalobos has been messing around plenty with his modular system in the studio, learning its ins-and-outs well enough to take it on tour—in an experimental setting—with Max Loderbauer. His lackluster recent remix work has sounded a bit like a kid with a toy, here he sounds like he's mastered the thing. Melodies are elliptical, drum patterns shift underneath your feet. But the shorter run-times (short by Villalobos standards, mind) leave you with the sense that he's found a nice middle ground between his fascination with hypnotic sound and music for those of us who don't have access to speakers you can fit your entire head into.
One of the things that makes Dependent and Happy so flush with energy is Villalobos' focus on drum programming. Whereas over the past few years he's set out a simple 4/4 rhythm and seemed to work around it, tracks like "Put Your Lips" and "I'm Counting" are uncanny in the way that he strips out just enough to keep you off balance at the start yet remain totally locked in. When the "missing" part of the house beat emerges, it's immensely satisfying—an aural sigh of relief. "Put Your Lips" might be the best thing here, with its plaintive and repeated non-sensical vocal sample holding court against the increasingly deranged rhythm closing in around it.
There are, however, plenty of contenders for "best track" here. "Koito"'s hazy symphony of violins that seem to flutter in and out of the stereo field; the aforementioned "I'm Counting" is pretty damn funky. There are even a few satisfyingly downtempo/beatless tracks like the crawling 110 BPM "Die Schwarze Massai" or the revolving chimes and chant that makes up "Das Leben Ist So Anders Ohne Dich."
There's so much to talk about here music-wise that you almost forget that you're supposed to be theorizing about what the album title means or whether or not he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps that's the surest sign that Dependent and Happy is one worth diving headlong into.