Following her unexpected new single ‘People, I’ve been sad’ earlier this month, Christine and the Queens today unveils a surprise new EP. La vita nuova – a prospect for a new life – draws strength from extreme vulnerability.
La vita nuova arrives with an accompanying short film of the same name, imagined by Christine and featuring the EP’s five new songs in as many sequences. The 14 minute film is an inward journey that sees the artist invest Opéra Garnier, the world famous Paris opera house, filling it with stories of ghosts and mythical creatures. Through the lens of long-time collaborator Colin Solal Cardo (Robyn, Charli XCX) and with choreography by Ryan Heffington (VMA Award 2014, Grammy Award nominated), Christine and her dancers appear in succession on the Opéra rooftop, its grand stage and most secret recesses, culminating into a feverish moment with Caroline Polachek, a collaborator on the EP’s title track.
Some artists’ careers seem to progress according to a carefully calculated plan, and there are others whose career seems to progress as a result of happy accidents and unexpected outcomes. Dan Snaith, who records as Caribou and Daphni, belongs firmly in the latter category. In the early 00s, he started out making critically acclaimed electronica that variously tilted towards psychedelia, krautrock and the wistful techno of Boards of Canada; he did it while studying for a PhD in pure mathematics, which added to its cerebral, rarefied air. There were artists who seemed less likely than Snaith to release an Ibiza-approved dancefloor banger, but they largely resided in the realms of funeral doom metal and musique concrète.
This made it a surprise to everyone – including Snaith – when Sun, a track from 2010’s Swim, became an Ibiza-approved dancefloor banger. To compound his amazement further, Caribou unexpectedly went from being a live act who played small venues to audiences that seemed not unlike Snaith himself – a self-described “music nerdy-type person” – to a reliably festival-rousing draw. He described Swim’s follow-up, Our Love, as “mind-numbingly straightforward”. It was anything but – wildly unconventional and dealing in subtleties and weird juxtapositions, which didn’t stop it making the UK Top 10.
That was five years ago: Snaith’s return to the Caribou name comes accompanied by the suggestion that he’s moved away from what he considers commerciality. Well, perhaps.
Suddenly is obviously a very personal album. It sets out its lyrical stall with Sister, on which Snaith apologises to his sibling for some past transgression and promises to change (“You’ve heard broken promises, I know,” he adds, glumly), while a recording of his mother singing a nursery rhyme, taped during their childhood, weaves in and out of the twinkling electronic backdrop. There are umpteen stark references to loss and grief and struggle – “You can take your place up in the sky,” he sings on You and I, “I will find a way to get on down here” – the evident turbulence of recent years in Snaith’s family life tempered by professions of undying love.
Throughout, Suddenly pushes Snaith’s voice to the forefront, frequently without reverb or any of the other effects applied as standard to vocals: it feels like he’s singing directly into your ear. You could suggest that’s a risky strategy – Snaith’s voice is fragile, untutored and unshowy, the diametric opposite of the kind of melodramatic firework display that’s usually held to constitute Good Singing in 2020 – but it turns out remarkably impactful. You don’t realise how accustomed your ears have become to Auto-Tuned perfection until you hear someone who actually sounds like a human being rather than a cyborg programmed to perform vocal calisthenics: it hits you emotionally in a way that melismatic feats of strength and endurance simply don’t.
But Suddenly is also drenched in wonderful melodies – behind the bedroom-bound sonic boffin image, Snaith is a really good songwriter – and packed with moments more obviously pop-facing than anything previously released. The opening of Never Come Back sounds like something you might hear on Radio 1 sandwiched between Dua Lipa and Khalid. Like I Loved You might be the most straightforwardly beautiful song Snaith has ever written, while Ravi offers up uncomplicated, skippily joyous filter house.
In 2013, when he was just 20 years old, Joe Thornalley gave a CD of his tracks to 1-800 Dinosaur, the collective co-founded by James Blake, during one of their clubnights at the legendary, since closed east London venue Plastic People. Fast forward a few months, and Blake was playing them out on his BBC Radio 1 residency. “I love this one from Vegyn, with a ‘Y’,” Blake said, careful to make sure listeners knew the precise spelling of Thornalley’s alias. “We actually met at 1-800 Dinosaur, which is the night that I run. He came down with another peculiar creature called Ersatz, they just came and handed me a CD and I really liked what I was hearing and was inspired to play it.”
Over the next few years, Vegyn turned his focus to running an electronic music label, PLZ Make It Ruins, which began back in 2014 with his debut EP All Bad Things Have Ended – Your Lunch Included, and PLZ VOL. 1, a limited edition tape featuring a cast of underground London producers, including the aforementioned Ersatz. The label nurtured a small but tight group of artists, originally exclusive to the UK, but eventually expanding to artists in Australia and the US. Vegyn went on to release a second EP on the label, Janhui, in 2015, where he further developed his particular brand of experimental, percussive bass music.
While this was happening, Vegyn crossed paths with someone else in Plastic People – Frank Ocean. The two struck up a friendship, and suddenly Vegyn was no longer DJing in tiny basement parties in London, but being flown out to LA to work on what would become Ocean’s 2016 projects Endless and Blonde, on which Thornalley was a frequently credited producer. Not just working for the singer behind the boards, Thornalley also started co-hosting episodes of the Blonded Radio show for Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio alongside Ocean and fellow producer Roof Access. Today, though, he’s understandably wary of people seeing him only in proximity to the American singer and not for the years he put into his work before and after that. “I love working for him, and I love the music I made for him,” Vegyn says of his creative relationship with Ocean, but he’s equally relishing making tracks of his own once again.
Rhode Island-based Orion, one of the newest acts on Italians Do It Better, has turned out a delectable, retro-tinged Italo cut. Shades of Glass Candy are splashed all over this one, but Orion’s novel creative spark is infused throughout. Produced by Johnny Jewel and available now via the IDIB store and streaming platforms.
Choir Boy have shared their new song ‘Complainer’ – tune in now.
The group is led by Adam Klopp, an artist who came of age around teenage bands in Cleveland, Ohio.
Known for his unusual tone, the term Choir Boy stuck – so he began to turn into something positive.
Using it as the name for his new band, their 2015 debut LP was a powerful example of his strident, nakedly emotional songwriting.
Moving forward, new album ‘Gathering Swans’ will be released on May 8th, with DAIS Records working on the release.
New song ‘Complainer’ is out now, a neat inversion of their previous work while containing the same resolute power.
Dominated by that soaring, incisive vocal, it’s a multi-layered work, at once a performance and a personal admomition.
He comments: “While many of our earlier songs serve as flowery lamentations of loss and grief, ‘Complainer’ snarkily examines the self-absorption of sadness.”
“The opening line ‘Oh my life’ was something I privately uttered while stewing over daily anxieties. It became comical to me that I would express my self-pity like that, in earnest, when my struggles seemed so relatively tame.”
Adam finishes: “‘Complainer’ multi-tasks as a pop song and a reminder to keep my privilege in check.”