WITH my hands in the air I’ll admit that my knowledge of contemporary French music is painfully limited, encompassing little more than the Europop that the French teachers would play in the hope that exposure to poor French rhyming couplets would miraculously make us pass our GCSE.
So, with those memories hovering dangerously close to the surface, it was a relief to have them immediately dispelled by the giddily gleeful synthpop melodies of Embrace, the debut album from Parisian trio Keep Dancing Inc.
Composed of Louis de Marliave, Joseph Signoret and Gabrielle Cresseaux, Keep Dancing Inc has been around for almost five years now, building up a substantial fanbase in France.
With two EPs to their name, an extensive tour with Blossoms and support from Radio 1’s Jack Saunders already tucked neatly under their belt, Embrace marks a highly-anticipated debut album, and one that proves that the wait has been worth it. Released last Friday, October 23rd, via Un Plan Simple Records, the album unites electronica with indie from both sides of the channel, the results of which are promising and exuberant, if dipping towards generic at times.
Embrace kicks off with “Start Up Nation”, a catchy bit of 80s’ synth nostalgia, brimming with energy and a dose of social commentary too. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics poke fun at corporate, capitalist culture. “If you can’t make ends meet, just cross the street”, Louis exclaims, with icy, emotionless tone.
“Uncertainty” follows, its mellow sound bearing a resemblance to Friendly Fires. “How it Starts” is all muted drones that cut edgily across the melody, whilst “Silent And Satisfied” evokes a strangely hollow mood.
Across the album, it’s these sort of steps away from colourful bubblegum pop into something more melancholy that arguably feel out of place, the group’s talent and skill misdirected. What Keep Dancing Inc do well, joyous synthpop, they do really well.
There punkier parts work well, offering flashing brilliance and potential routes for Keep Dancing Inc to explore next. Take Embrace’s lead single, “No Milkshakes In Hell”, as an example.
It’s here that Keep Dancing Inc really find their stride, skilfully blending the historically antagonistic new wave and punk. In this case, it definitely pays off. Make no mistake though, this is a brilliant bit of synthpop first and foremost, but it’s the twang of the bass that really powers the song as well as the frantic, crazed beats from Gabrielle that also contribute to the track’s Talking Heads’ edge, although admittedly that allusion might be partly due to the common factor of a murderous French psychopath song.
The band explained: “This song tells an absurd story. It’s about a psychopath who has an addiction for milkshake.” And, if Cluedo ever plans a reboot, Keep Dancing Inc have come up with a genius new murder weapon too. As Louis’ song persona explains: “I stabbed a man with a straw last night”.
After this diversion into dairy-motivated murder, the album then reverts to pleasant, intricate synthpop, guaranteed to make you move. The odd touch of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or even Depeche Mode in their pre-fetish gear years creeps in whilst the hints of punk that run through Embrace’s veins keeps the album interesting.
A moment of epiphany comes with “Corsica Love”: lush, woozy and with a luxuriously rich and indulgent texture, this song is an ode to halcyon days gone by. It’s a hazy, soothing synth dream that you’ll want to remain immersed in as the lazy chords, drifting vocals and transfixing, understated motifs whisk you away.
It really is the subtle standout of the album and suggests a fascinating future for Keep Dancing Inc if they decide to expand on this sound.
However, a rude awakening cuts the dream of “Corsica Love” short with a sharp, one-minute break of tense, trembling synths that split the album in two before Embrace’s return to the trio’s classic synthpop sound with “Long Enough”.
In “Long Enough”, the band, barely in their twenties themselves, wrap a nice helping of teenage angst up in upbeat melodies and the hovering buzz of string machines. Admittedly indie pop isn’t the most powerful vessel for this kind of anger; it doesn’t quite hit the spot in the way that raucous, snarling guitars and thundering drums do, but this teenage angst theory is one supported by the trio’s stated influences for the track: New Order, The Smiths and The Chameleons. And, despite the warm, surfy sound of “Long Enough”, there’s no disguising the cathartic power in the lyrics: “You’ve been deciding long enough, its time for me to take the reins,” Louis proclaims with an unquestionable determination.
And so, although Keep Dancing Inc haven’t done anything new on this album, and although there is no groundbreaking step forward, nor a new path carved out for the future of synth-based pop, what the trio have done, they’ve done well. Really well.
The youthful exuberance is infectious, the hints of disco irresistible and as for the group’s bright future? Well, that’s all the more inevitable.
Keep Dancing Inc’s Embrace is out digitally now; you can save it at your preferred platform here.