ALBUM REVIEW: Keep Dancing Inc. - Embrace
The Parisian synth-pop trio you never knew you needed.
Gabrielle Cresseaux, Louis de Marliave and Joseph Signoret have delivered an animated album of dance and synth-pop, glittering with energy. It's the joyful sound of a trio of young musicians coming into their own as creatives. Take the tongue in cheek opener ‘Start up Nation’ for example, a track that kicks off with a few synth notes and transitions into heavily distorted grooves. It’s fantastically 80s, fitting in comfortably with the resurgence of synth music in the underground and the mainstream throughout 2020, with artists like Dua Lipa and The Weeknd releasing 80s inspired projects. ‘Start up Nation’ displays the lyrical risks the trio are willing to take, snapping their jaws at the "I've just got up at 4am and downed a kale smoothie while sorting out my stock portfolio" spheres that inhabit the darkest corners of LinkedIn. They call out to the moguls that feel capable of walking up to an unemployed person and laughing in their faces, with the lyrics “You can’t get a job? Get on your feet!”. It’s (subconsciously or not) very American Psycho, a brilliant satire of the ever omniscient prevalence of yuppie culture. The trio pisses all over it with a friendly grin and infectiously good-natured energy.
Sticking with this Patrick Bateman-esque feeling, ‘Milkshakes in Hell’ is another undeniable standout, and I can see it being the most commercially successful from the tracklist, sitting somewhere between the two styles the group transgress frequently, heavily rock and electro inspired. It’s the most energetic song from the project, and tells the story of a psychopath who has an unquenching addiction for milkshakes, killing those who get in the way of his milkshake drinking, or out of anger if the milkshake in question isn’t sweet enough. The absurd lyrical content is punctuated by hungry, pulsating guitar licks and a racing drumbeat as frantic synths swirl in the background, as if they were a straw in the psychopath's milkshake. It’s all held together by a slurp before the chorus and distorted vocals dissipating at the culmination of the song. It’s erratic, disorientating, propulsive, and extremely well executed. I found my thirst for a psychopath milkshake killer song thoroughly quenched.
The production and mastering across the entire project is absolutely flawless, which is perhaps unsurprising as the band had some input from Tom Carmichael, a producer and record engineer who has worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, James Blake, Shame and H.E.R. The beats and synths are luxuriously knitted together, the twinkling synths strewn generously throughout ‘Corsica Love’ are ridiculously pretty, and not massively overpowering, which a group concerned with making a crowd move often have to walk a tightrope with. ‘Old Child’ is a good example of the group's inclination towards electronic dance, a song that feels carved for live performance with a heavy instrumental section, a healthy dose of synths and the backing of some solid drumming sections. The switch up at 1:50 is absolutely excellent; tight and propellent, oozing with the glitz of European disco. The sax that comes in at 3 minutes is a welcome addition and, while I can’t help but think this track ever so slightly overstays its welcome, it’s still a well constructed addition to the tracklist. ‘Silent & Satisfied’ follows a similar direction, a minimalist track that uses silky avant-garde synth-pop to give the feeling of the delicately cold early mornings of a city, but transitions as the synth takes control, functioning beautifully alongside the vocals, illuminating a delightfully warm chorus:
"Silent and satisfied
all despair here has died
we tied bonds in heaven
golden faces in the sun"
This warmth radiates throughout much of the record, emanating from the cover, a picture of the three embracing (as the title very explicitly suggests), and tracks that often focus more on inducing a feeling than on attempting to pull a listener through a narrative. It’s a quality that is executed well, each song bringing up a new feeling, a new quality, a new colour. The notion of embracing, of companionship and warmth is integrated all the way down to the structure of the tracks with the simple instrumental interlude ‘(Embrace)’ separating two sides of the project and wrapping either side of the album together. It’s a pleasant musical motif, and I think it works fairly well, although the instrumental itself is a little overly simple and could’ve used a touch more development to keep the album as fresh as it had started.
‘Could U Stop’ and ‘Long Enough’ are tracks tinged with psychedelia and revelling in their indie rock influences, with elements of The Strokes and The Smiths. It’s a style the trio feel at home with - ‘Could U Stop’ has an anthemic layered chorus of “Could you stop? Turning on me”, dealing with the paradox of conflict in relationships with people you love, perhaps out of the sheer time you spent together. It’s the close friend you have and can't stand but you're held together by the fact that you love each other. Sometimes.
'Uncertainty' is a smooth track, exuberant and poppy, describing the doubts at the beginning of a relationship. It functions in direct contrast to ‘A Letter’ which reads as a letter detailing the painful story of a family’s relationship. It’s an intimate ballad, with a high pitched synth spanning the length of the song and keeping the disjointed lyrics of the track in check, as the slightly broken vocals lamenting "could you stay a bit longer, could you stay a bit longer" cut close to the bone. The song is both warm and cold, announcing both continuity and discontinuity simultaneously. It thuds to a stop at the end, with a whistling in the background like a cold breeze biting your ear to close a track that feels far more intimate than anything else on the album.
‘How it Starts’ wraps up the 80s feeling well, a slow-building song that draws to a dramatic close. It’s contemplative, flickering and gorgeous, it’s an American kid on the dancefloor of his high school prom in the mid 90s with a carnation and a really stupid looking cummerbund beginning to forget who he is, or at least cease caring. It’s the idea of movement that Keep Dancing Inc. seem to be concerned with, the ability to force a listener into motion, to induce a feeling that propels a person into action, to pull the people around them closer. The celebratory electronic woops and the jittery hi hats at the culmination of the project almost seem to confirm that they have succeeded in their mission, on a record that brims with infectious youthfulness and a quiet confidence. The group has carved themselves a place in modern synth-pop, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.
- 8.1 -
'Start up Nation', 'No Milkshakes in Hell', 'How it Starts'
Fin Cousins is a postgrad literature student studying at Kings College, London. He loves sport, music and writing and he is still waiting for Love Island to accept his application. He also made our logo.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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