Eight years on from his thrilling debut album Smash, Parisian electro prodigy Jackson Forgeaud looked set for a lingering half-life in Where Are They Now features. Yet suddenly, and without much in the way of pre-release hype, he has finally returned a rejuvenated being. He has a new incarnation of his Computerband that emphasises communication with the audience in live performance, and this belated, frazzled, intense and sometimes overwhelming follow-up album delivers on his promise.
As an album title, Smash aptly and succinctly described Jackson’s iconoclastic, brutal and frenzied approach to arrangement. Glow presents us with slightly more in the way of smoke and mirrors. It suggests this might be a step into warmer, less emotionally detached territory. At times, this does appear to be the case, particularly in the haunted vocals of Memory. Although the lines are delivered in a curiously dislocated and robotic style of phrasing, there is still a humanity in the piece in spite of its emphasis on selective amnesia. At the other end of the spectrum of feeling, the exciting Arp #1 resonates with an infectious discotheque euphoria. The synth stabs on Vista make for something almost poptastic, although Jackson of course can’t resist from subverting them with underlying strangeness.
Elsewhere, however, Glow proves to be as attacking and forthright as its predecessor. Jackson himself describes it as “a game of musical obsessiveness and rageous pleasures” that he made “driven by feverish moments of revelation” (perhaps the Glow of the album’s title refers to seeing the light?). Certainly, a track such as Seal encapsulates both the awe and the aggression in Jackson’s musical approach. The piece is defiantly cluttered, building to an explosive level of intensity, combining heavy bass frequencies, dizzying vocal samples and disorientating fuzzy noise to create something strange, beguiling and violent all at the same time.
Where Glow appears to build on Smash is in its mischievous raiding of pop history. Either beneath or just above the surface of Jackson’s sonic assaults is a developed and intuitive sense of melody. The delicate guitar arpeggios that open Blow (and serve as an overture for the album as whole) even recall Sgt Pepper era The Beatles (although not in slavish homage, more an intriguing recontextualisation). The ’60s pop sensibility recurs on Dead Living Things, which sounds rather like Oasis filtered through a weird electro prism. Curiously, by making this music more machine-line, Jackson has brought this musical world, so often plundered tediously and unthinkingly, into sharper relief and made it sound alive once more.
If the electro-glam stomp of GI Jane veers into silliness, Jackson thankfully makes up for the unusual mis-step by very much saving the best for last. The epic Billy is not just by some distance Glow’s best track, it’s one of the most attuned, sensitive and thrilling dance tracks of the year. It’s recurring descending motif is both memorable and melancholic, whilst it traverses through a range of borrowed rhythms hailing the now substantial history of club culture. It’s a triumphant note on which to conclude an album that shows how patience can be rewarded.