Having focussed his efforts on producing the award-winning efforts of eccentric French pop diva Camille, MaJiKer (derived from full name Matthew Ker, a Midlands-born Englishman now resident in a Parisian arrondissement) has now pieced together his very own long-player. And it’s a suitably off-kilter 19 track offering, which will come as no surprise to those already aware of how he helped hone Camille’s tasty brand of oddpop.
Body-Piano-Machine takes its title from the core components that make up the whole album, i.e. using the body (by tapping, hitting or drumming on it) or voice to generate noise, a piano and one machine in particular, a Yamaha PSS 270 (home) keyboard. The results are far more accessible and pop-driven than that initial, rather limiting, musical premise may seem to dictate. And with five of those tracks clocking in at a mere minute, it’s not as overblown as it might at first appear.
Percussion is formed of a combination of clicks, hisses, gulps and other noises that defy categorisation. This is beatboxing taken beyond its usual boundaries. A couple of tracks are skits made up purely of a cut and paste collage of random words, noises and bodily strikes, such as Body Count.
This forms the start of one of two trilogies of short tracks that showcase each of the three elements that make up the album. Next up is the simple but beautiful Pianopus 1, followed by Machine Mash-Up 1, which is one of a few occasions when the keyboard is allowed to reveal its true colours as a home keyboard. Yet in spite of its simplistic ropiness, it’s still catchy.
Whether it’s an approach born of pure artistic brilliance or verging on annoying self-indulgence is a matter of opinion (and let’s not forget Camille’s second album Le Fil was built on the concept of a thread running through everything), but it’s when these three strands converge on the rest of the album and create full, accomplished tracks that Body-Piano-Machine truly comes into its own.
The Pink Piano has all of the hooks a good pop song should as Camille adds her distinctive vocals over the top of MaJiKer’s clicks, clacks and finger-snaps. The track then takes flight at its climax with a beautiful soaring musicbox-style twinkling complimented by the diva’s near-operatic, layered vocals.
Strings & Wires sees MaJiKer’s oohs and aahs join a buzzing organ and gorgeous piano line, while the chorus will keep repeating itself time and time again in your head. Tongue, probably the album’s most immediate highlight, is an epic electro workout, combining warm melodies with a stomping beatbox backing and driving synthline as Ker again adds his whispered lyrical delivery to the mix.
At times there’s humour (with lyrics like “Beep beep! I’m flashing for you”), and at others theatrical brooding darkness as on The Guillotine. Moments of dramatic Euro-dance nestling alongside melancholic balladry and genres are never fully observed or adhered to. All of this adds up to a refreshingly challenging listen that somehow manages to remain fully accessible at the same time.
What may appear to be an eccentric oddity on first listen gradually reveals itself to be a strong, uniquely styled pop album after a few listens. If you stick with it, you will reap the rewards and find yourself being nagged by many of the hooks and catches that saturate the album. If enough people allow themselves to enter MaJiKer’s offbeat musical world then the Paris-based UK expat may well end up garnering the same critical acclaim and commercial success as his famous French friend.