Twink's latest album innovates dance music

What is dance music? Even though it has thoroughly permeated popular culture, the phrase “dance music” is nebulous at best. Does it have to be electronic? Does it need a drop? Can music still be called dance music if it’s rock, hip-hop, or country? Does dance music even need to have a definition, or does it just need to get people out of their seats? Does it even need to do that?

Even though the shapeless nature of dance music has sparked numerous arguments between purists and casual fans, it has allowed for an enormous amount of innovation. Since 2003, Mike Langlie has proven himself to be one of dance music’s most innovative producers with his musical project — the band Twink.

Using the sounds of a toy piano as his primary instrument, Langlie taps into the core of modern dance music to craft songs that have a universal appeal and prove that kitsch is not an inherently superficial novelty. On Feb. 10, Langlie will release his ninth album. Happy Houses is a collection of eight tracks that demonstrate Langlie’s intimate understanding of dance music.

It is easy to dismiss Langlie’s music as childish on first listen. It evokes such strong memories of early youth that it often begs comparisons to child entertainers like Raffi or Laurie Berkner. The plinky toy piano on lead single “Close to Home” brings to mind a trippier version of Mark Mothersbaugh’s score for The Rugrats. Even in parts where the toy piano is absent and a dubby bass wobble dominates the song, there is a sense of jubilation that only one with a toddler’s naiveté could experience.

While other notably kitschy songs like Ylvis’s “What Does the Fox Say?” or the “Bed Intruder Song” lose their luster and appeal after the novelty wears off; repeated listens to Langlie’s “Close to Home” result in an appreciation for its fantastic and tight arrangement. There is a natural ebb and flow in the instrumentation and song progression that legitimizes the use of the toy piano.

The accompanying music video is almost too surreal to explain. It can be best described as a house transplanting other miniature pastel-colored houses from
their perches on urban walkways to the wilderness.

The video is nearly impossible to take seriously, but maybe that’s the point of Happy Houses.

With song titles like “Ostrich Hop,” “Gumdrop Glitter,” and “Crocodilly,” it’s clear that Langlie has little, if any, concern for being considered a serious musician. Instead, he concerns himself with channeling the simplicity and wonder of early childhood in his music. From the sublime weirdness of the synths and samples in “Chickaboo” to the windup-toy, percussive groove of “Frankentoy,” each song offers a unique perspective into Langlie’s mind.

It is impossible to compare Langlie’s music to music that is marked by its creator’s desires to be seen as a “real” music maker. Langlie’s aspirations are laid out clearly on Happy Houses, and none of them involve others’ perceptions of him. Happy Houses is a half-hour-long indulgence in the simple pleasure of creating music.