Sunday, 8 May 2016

Jean Michel Jarre - Electronica Vol. 2

The second installment of Jean-Michel Jarre's major collaborative project has freshly been released on 6 May, and it follows the volume entitled Time Machine.

Perhaps it is a sacrilege to start with a review of the second volume, but personally, not only it feels more cohesive than the first, but also, it brings back a certain majestic feel that he, and very few other, practitioners of electronic music have managed to infuse their compositions with. 

The list of collaborators is, once again, large and illustrious: from Gary Numan to Hans Zimmer to The Orb, there are many legendary names on the track listing.

The flow of this album, from its rather beautiful and economic opening theme right to its reprise heard in the final track, is perhaps much more heroic and even anthemic than the rather caleidoscope-like first volume. 

This is by no means an exhaustive track-by-track review, but one has to pick out a number of tracks to illustrate the span of the material on the album...

There are of course incursions into very strong, driving, and at the same time rather dark, rhythms, too. Exit, featuring Edward Snowden's poignant monologue, is a good example where the very fast-paced electronic background would serve as a perfect soundtrack to a high-octane video illustrating the octets of internet traffic circulating in the myriad network fibres...

However, when one would expect some typical electro-pop when looking at the collaborators listed on some tracks, the surprises keep coming.

Brick England (feat. The Pet Shop Boys) is, with all its lighter tone after the anthemic album intros, a perfect blend of softly melancholic vocal lines and more animated electronics, the tension between the two working superbly. 

Swipe To The Right (feat. Cyndi Lauper) is, again, by no means an '80s or '90s synth-pop tune... Surprisingly, it is rather darker and keeps the album's overall (in a good sense) heroic thrust. What perhaps surprised one the most was the sudden emergence, at the very end of the track, of phased vintage strings and electronic percussion patterns typical of Oxygene.

In the somewhat expected to be "heavier" and darker register, we are not let down... Here For You (feat. Gary Numan) is an instant classic, with Numan's soaring vocals and the almost ode-like electronic backing making yet another very memorable track that would have worked perfectly on any, at the same time dark and uplifting, Numan albums, too.

Why This, Why That and Why? (feat. Yello) takes us to the realms of existentialist meditation, along the lines of what one may have experienced emotionally when listening to Daft Punk's Touch (from Random Access Memories), Here, too, the text, the vocal quality and the electronic atmospherics underpinning the monologue work extremely well for a mood piece.

A purely, in a way ambiental, mood piece of soundscapes and voices, bringing hommage to the electronic instrument creators Leon Theremin and Bob Moog, is the Switch on Leon (feat. The Orb). These Creatures (feat. Julia Holter) starts with a sonic surprise, when for a few seconds of her vocals we may think we landed in Laurie Anderson's O Superman... but the track evolves rapidly into a blend of crystalline vocals by Julia and gentle electronics in the background

There is even a pinch of Hollywood greatness here... Electrees (feat. Hans Zimmer) is far from some  mere snippet of symphonic soundtrack, though. Admittedly a pleasant surprise is not only the structurally well-rounded short track that can take the listener through a number of emotional levels, but so is the absence of minimalist string patterns one may have expected. Instead, it is a lush piece with patterns actually coming from the very electronic-sounding sequencer voices, giving nice counterpoint to the very organic (incl. choral) lead lines.

The final two tracks return to "pure" Jarre, in the sense of them not listing collaborators or co-composers, and nicely round off the album material with a reprise of the opening theme, too. 

Overall, a very noteworthy outing that follows Electronica Vol. 1 - with the upcoming tours featuring material from these two albums, too, it will be interesting to see how the collaborative pieces are presented in concert settings (without the featured musicians).

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