Monday, 18 March 2013

Woodkid - The Golden Age

Woodkid is the pseudonym of French singer-songwriter and director Yoann Lemoine. He has created music videos for Lana Del Ray's 'art' and Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream". All his filmography aside, Lemoine has actually released a couple of EPs. The Golden Age is his debut album and just may be the venture that sees him climb up the lists. Lemoine is classically trained on piano and has studied classical music extensively. His work on piano and knowledge of classical arrangements has helped him dearly on The Golden Age, which leans towards a classical spectrum rather than a pop / alternative classification. The second track "Run Boy Run" is the combination of all his hard work, deep bass drums, clattered minimalistic electronic beats and a powerful vocal reminiscent of Antony Hegarty. Even as a debut artist, Woodkid is distinctive right from the first click.

The titular track is a combination of Lemoine's piano skills and string arrangements. One of the most exciting aspects of Woodkid's music is the unpredictable percussion. It weaves in and out, without fade but in a post-rock, quiet / loud / quiet fashion - exciting to say the least. "The Great Escape" carries on in traditional Woodkid fashion. A short string arrangement leaves, and the percussion enters. The orchestration picks up and a running beat occurs with a fast paced piano riff. Lemoine's deep voice stands strong with the instrumental, but never really challenges me as a listener.

Two years ago, Lemoine released Iron EP. The title track "Iron" was sampled by Kendrick Lamar on his track "The Spiteful Chant" from Section.80. Lamar used the captivating brass hook to his hip-hop advantage. "Iron" is one of the highlights on The Golden Age, another well-structured track with orchestral breaks and loud percussion. Thankfully the album doesn't follow this course. Lemoine never set out to make a ground-breaking electronic album that's both fast paced and meaningful, he's released The Golden Age as an emotional album to follow-up his musical background. It was inevitable he would release an album; the genre was never going to be disputed. Under the Woodkid name, Lemoine's piano backed tracks, "Where I Live", "Boat Song" and "The Shore" are like Antony & the Johnsons chamber pop without the drum kit.

"I Love You" happens to start off strong with one of Woodkid's dominant percussion patterns. A vocal shriek follows with an organ backing. An emotional song, worn on Lemoine's sleeve. It has a catchy chorus which lives long, something The Golden Age doesn't particularly do well. Apart from the few individual 'singles', The Golden Age is remarkably forgettable. It's the same as his love for soundtracks, they have one combination of sounds that work well, and the rest is a re-hash of that sound, Woodkid has that sound and uses it extensively on The Golden Age. At first the loud percussions and charming strings are fantastic, but the more you listen, the more you realise how primitive and out of place it actually is. Tracks like "The Shore" and "Ghost Lights" come off as instantly likeable tracks, but underneath the production is an orchestra that could be from any soundtrack. 

It's the bass drum that ruins The Golden Age for me. When used appropriately, the strings sound gorgeous, such as with my personal favourite "Shadows". This two minute instrumental is the half-way point, and the soft, memorable structure that stays with the listener past the repetitive drumming of "Stabat Master" and "Falling". The introduction of "Conquest of Spaces" is also lovely, but the aftermath is incredibly naive and uninspiring. We're left with the feeling of a serious walking scene in a drama, rather than an exciting moment in recorded music. Perhaps Woodkid's music is supposed to go with film, which would make sense considering Lemoine's background in music videos.

The Golden Age isn't the album 2011 fans of "Iron" will want to hear. It's not as if Woodkid is being discovered all over again. Two years have passed since his 'breakthrough' track and he's still living off this single. The other singles have all been pre-released too, including the 02 advert with Sean Bean talking over - "Run Boy Run". Lemoine's commercial and monetary gains are far more important than originality and quality. The chamber pop aspects are interesting as fans of Antony & the Johnsons may point out. There are not enough piano build-ups and far too many string inclusions. The Golden Age is a distinctive album, but it's in no way original or overly interesting. It keeps the listener entertained, but only temporarily. If you want to listen to music like this, then watch a film.


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