Housse de Racket are a Parisian synth rock duo whose music, like many other cross-channel artists of that ilk, accomplishes sad-happy pop with an infectious joie de vivre. That aptitude for exuberance has been honed on Alesia, whose flashes of brilliance are irresistible.
Signed to Kitsuné for this, their second album, Pierre Leroux and Victor Le Masne have concocted a mixture of pop, disco and atmospheric instrumentals, using a mixture of English and French to belt out their matter of fact tales. Their sound textures and effervescent guitars mean their collective pasts as session musicians for Air and Phoenix shine through, while producer Philippe Zdar of Cassius‘ French disco touches give the album a gossamer sheen.
The pair have developed a more accomplished sound since 2010’s Forty Love, also improving on twice released single Oh Yeah, whose bouncy off-timed breezy pop felt fresh like Two Door Cinema Club, if a little lacking in the permanence they now posses.
However, there is division in Alesia’s ranks. Where the first half surprises and delights, the latter loses momentum in an explosion of ideas – a problem not uncommon among synth pop artists whose energy and creativity struggles to run the full course of an LP.
Human Nature’s prog rock beginning isn’t immediately promising – its staccato synths would strike horror into the heart of those who recoil at the memory of happy hardcore. But that dismay is short lived, as Klaxons’ Myths of the Near Future melodies meet with swirling keyboards and screeching guitars pedalled at a furious pace. Chorus’ staccato declarations of “electrical”, “physical” and “chemical” romance also bear similarity to the sometime nu rave protagonists, but its start-stop vocals work with the muted beats and proggy discords that might’ve soundtracked a ’70s cop drama in a past life.
Coy, Phoenix disco pop is channelled through Roman, with clever synths that also call to the offbeat ingenuity of Late Of The Pier. The track is grandiose and confident – a quality that appears quite frequently in French artists that sometimes British synth pop bands seem to lack. Meanwhile, the smooth Chateaux could itself occupy a slot on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, with its deep, disco cool tinged with sorrowful melodies that say, “This place is falling apart.”
Strains of Hot Chip four to the floor, African drum-edged beats are wrapped with jangling guitar riffs on Apocalypso, giving the album an unpredictable turn in direction. The chorus bursts through, warning, “The end is coming the end is coming”, which echoes among seesawing keyboards and sighing synths, that jostle for position in a beautifully lavish piece of smoothly produced pop that’s a clear album highlight.
Alesia, the title track, signals a watershed of sorts for Housse de Racket, its Bladerunner synths producing a somber, 80s version of futuristic, with gravelly harmonies that speak a one-worded ode to its female subject. From here, the spark isn’t so audible, and tracks like Les Hommes et Les Femmes lack the flow and lustre of the earlier few, despite its gently lulling keyboard and synth loop. Leather-clad Euro-camp notes and ’80s colour block dancefloor disco beats merge on Aquarium, but like Empire and Ariane’s Tron atmospheres and TGV’s proud riffs and synths, they miss the sultry French production of the record’s first tracks.
After starting out so decidedly confident and, well, French, it’s a shame Housse de Racket couldn’t sustain their form across the 11 tracks. But even if just for the first few, Alesia is still very much worth tapping into. For those that do, they’ll be rewarded with music that is memorable, charmingly quirky and silkily produced.