Yelle - Moteur Action

Given recent events, I hesitate to give Dr. Luke and his minions too much credit for the success of shining up Yelle’s electropop on Complétement Fou (and if I do, it’s begrudgingly). Judging by the Spotify commentary, though, Yelle’s producer GrandMarnier had a considerable amount of input. The result is less sonically adventurous than Safari Disco Club, but it’s an interesting experiment nonetheless.

"Moteur Action" is the most straightfowardly pop song on the record, and thus one of the best. It’s got a very simple hook whose syncopation only adds to the night-drive setting of the lyrics. The Luke drums and synth chords are there, but really, the chorus sounds a few harmonizing vocal lines away from a Perfume song. That, I think, is what makes it especially exciting.



Shut Up" by Conway


It’s not until the bridge that “Shut Up” clicks into place for me (it doesn’t help that the lyrics apparently aren’t available online): “I work for nothing,” Conway sings, practically spitting her words “Just like they said to/ Now I want my money/ Just like you do.” It’s a driving empowerment song, a fuck-the-haters anthem, but with that bridge “Shut Up” becomes a pro-selling out song as well. Conway’s now signed to Columbia, and she used her earlier single to talk about what she went through before getting that deal. It’s an interesting approach: I feel like “selling out” is way, way less of a concept under discussion now than it was, say, 15-25 years ago, but does that mean we’re ready to celebrate it? Conway certainly seems to think so, and I’m not sure I have an argument against it that doesn’t get into conspiracy territory. But I am very interested in what the reaction to this song will be if it hits as hard as it sounds like it might.


I’m not familiar with Conway, but her tough, retro sound is so on the nose that I suspect this is negotiation between an A&R exec and Conway’s first instincts. For the past decade, or decade and a half maybe, the discussion around selling out has changed. Record sales aren’t a foregone conclusion for pop acts and aside from specifically regional scenes (the sort that foster rap and punk talents), most artists grow their fanbases in odd bursts. They’ll tour a handful dates, tweet up a storm, arrange a Vevo or Spotify premiere and, hopefully, quickly find a few thousand souls willing to stick around. Our previous conception of building an audience revolved around developing and honing a sound, attracting fans through sheer competence and ability to fit in with everything else on the marquee. Thus, “selling out” was a problem of losing the spark that made you appealing in the first place, introducing a generic palette to your compositions in order to appeal broadly. Now, artists will shimmy through as many genres and BPMs as it takes to land mass appeal. And anyone familiar with the collapse of the music industry at least begrudgingly supports this strategy (and those who aren’t were probably always synched with the mainstream).

This business approach is especially employed by women. There are outliers, of course, but most women who succeed as pop stars have to reinvent themselves several times over before knocking on Billboard’s door. Once inside, the process hardly slows — it’s mandatory. This is not to suggest that women from Beyonce to Cher aren’t stimulated or fulfilled by the pressure to keep evolving, to grow ever more elaborate, but that “selling out,” in this context, means something completely different. It’s impossible for a pop star to lose her authenticity because it’s rooted in her constant rebirth.

Of course, Conway is approaching “selling out” from two directions. “Shut Up” also tackles the way women are encouraged to share instead of sell their art. This mindset is as old as time, it predates the Golden Age of the music industry, and like a cockroach, it’s survived the decline. The bridge is a simple “fuck you, pay me” that clarifies just who should shut up. The timing couldn’t be more serendipitious, hot on the heels of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comments that women should build karma instead of asking for raises. Men like Nadella should shut up and Conway offers them sage advice.

The music video makes literal the sort of back bending and patience women have to practice on a daily basis. It’s no coincidence that in several scenes, balls hit Conway in her face. “Shut Up” is a message directed at men and when her tolerance runs out, Conway rampages, throwing props at the video’s all male staff. This is a fair victory lap for a record deal and I hope that her spunky attitude is the spiritual element that survives each of Conway’s incarnations. 

This is amazing. The song and the writing.

Though at this point my reaction is less “FUCK YEAH” and more “WHERE IS THE ALBUM,” but I shouldn’t be greedy.

This is also to say to all my Chicago friends: I’m coming home in a few weeks for a short break and will be seeing Kate Boy at Schuba’s on the 21st. You should come! I saw them last year with crystalleww and it was the best only underground strobey cool kid rave I’ve ever been to.

But if you don’t end up coming to the show with me that’s fine because I still want to say hi to you all.

On Yelle’s “Complètement Fou”

originally published here

Yelle occupies an uncertain space in the pop world. Despite writing entirely in their native tongue, the French trio has garnered a small but devoted following in the U.S. with their snappy brand of electropop. It begs the question whether they’d ever take that linguistic leap to English in order to speak to this fanbase. Though the lyrics are still in French on Yelle’s third effort, Complètement fou (which translates to Totally Crazy), the band does take a leap towards a more universal “pop” sound to mostly successful ends, but the final product is something of a mixed bag.

For Complètement fou, Yelle have enlisted the help of super producer Dr. Luke, who’s known for his Grammy-nominated work with Katy Perry. The results are what you’d expect: the new songs sound polished and professional, intermittently sparkling with Dr. Luke’s sheen and Yelle’s personal touch. Album highlight “Ba$$in” features vocalist Julie Budet rapping in a manner similar to her early work, all insouciance and wry humor, but the fresh house production updates it for 2014. However, the album sags when Dr. Luke et al.’s supplied beats clash with Budet’s vision by softening her edges. “Florence en Italie” and “Un jour viendra” sound particularly bland, the instrumentals resembling the nondescript songs that peppered the back half of Katy Perry’s last album Prism, on which Dr. Luke was a prominent collaborator.

For the most part, though, Budet sidesteps this issue by bringing her strong personality to the songs, as on the sleek night drive of “Moteur action”: the album’s sole English word, “Whatever!” gets the abandon-free delivery it deserves. There’s also the stellar title track, whose chorus pits Budet’s sharp-tongued lines against a high-pitched cry of the title. While the lyrics should delight any Francophone, perhaps Complètement fouwants to imply that language shouldn’t be a barrier. The lovely closing track “Bouquet Final” bears this out, its heaving bass lines tossing Budet’s tiptoeing vocals around. Sure, it might be nice to know what the song is about (throwing oneself hedonistically into love, fittingly), but the music more than communicates that effectively.

Mostly Cloudy

I continue to not get Tove Lo, and her debut Queen of the Clouds doesn’t help matters. Nearly every song is built around hinting at the same self-destructive behavior without going into any specifics about real danger or harm while also displaying an enormous self-pity that is less believable than it is tiring. Queen of the Clouds reminds me of those kids in college who simultaneously brag and ask for pity because they got trashed last night and are too hungover to get any work done now and it’s already Sunday afternoon oh my goddd.

It doesn’t help that the sonic palette for the whole thing consists of the same shade of gray. Drums plod along, reverb is piled on without abandon, synth pads drone. Soporific doesn’t begin to describe it. Tove Lo can be a compelling vocalist, but she’s in need of something less dour (see: “Strangers”) to convince me more.

My first screenshots of despair submission! I liked this because it has a sort of double despair: the question “Will you seek help?” and then the doom+gloom of the italicized you will not leave this page.
Screenshot comes from a brief screening questionnaire on my university’s mental health website that is supposed to make a broad estimate about whether you have depression, anxiety, or a substance abuse problem.

My first screenshots of despair submission! I liked this because it has a sort of double despair: the question “Will you seek help?” and then the doom+gloom of the italicized you will not leave this page.

Screenshot comes from a brief screening questionnaire on my university’s mental health website that is supposed to make a broad estimate about whether you have depression, anxiety, or a substance abuse problem.

Today is my 22nd birthday. It’s too bad there aren’t any cultural references I could make about my age, any songs or movies or anything like that – I had to photoshop all these other things to make it work! Oh well. I’ll still try to have a nice day :)