Cerebral, fun and thought provoking, packed with beats and hooks that almost defy you to not dance along. It’s also immensely… topical
Topical Dancer could well be the most aptly titled album of the year. For, as you’d expect from a record released on Deewee, Soulwax‘s label (the Belgian brothers are also on co-production duties) it’s an album packed with beats and hooks that almost defy you to not dance along. It’s also immensely topical, with themes such as racism, gender identity and sexual agency.
This could have turned out unlistenably po-faced, but thanks to the Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul‘s irrepressible sense of humour, it’s an absolute delight. Esperanto, for example, starts off as a swipe against performative ‘wokeness’ (“are you as offended when nobody’s watching?”) before Adigéry sets out advice such as “don’t say ‘nice pair’, say ‘I love the symmetry of you’… don’t say ‘I would like a black Americano’, say ‘I’ll have an African American please'”).
It’s that playful humour which raises Adigéry and Pupul up a level. With both musicians being of immigrant heritage and raised in Ghent, they bring a unique perspective to songs like Blenda, a song with an almost unsettlingly catchy refrain of “why don’t you go back to where you belong?” which is followed by Adigéry sweetly singing “Siri, why don’t you tell me where I belong?”. It’s the sort of song where you could easily miss the message as Adigéry & Pupul create such a infectious soundscape which pulls you into the song.
Elsewhere, It Hit Me talks of the duo’s early sexual awakening to an almost industrial-sounding beat, and Ceci n’est pas un cliche marries up a funky guitar lick to a succession of lyrics that are empty and cliched and just a little familiar (“you’re as cold as ice… I wanted to die in your arms again… I throw my hands in the air, and I wave ’em like I just don’t care”). The song’s chorus, “I bet this song feels real familiar” rams home the message in a very playful way.
Musically, there are nods to a whole host of names throughout Topical Dancer – the hypnotic synths of LCD Soundsystem is nodded to in Mantra, while Making Sense Stop, as the song title would suggest, owes a debt to David Byrne and Talking Heads‘ early experiments with Brian Eno. While those influences may be worn on the sleeve, they never overwhelm the duo’s own sense of identity.
Only HAHA seems like a bit of an outlier, simply consisting of Adigéry laughing (and part-sobbing) over a metallic beat with “guess you had to be there” dropped in occasionally. That’s soon forgotten by the excellent closing track Thank You, a kiss-off almost dripping with sarcasm as Adigéry reacts to unsolicited advice with lines like “yes, I prefer my first EP too, maybe I should make it less complex”, and “you discovered me right? You’re the Columbus to my America, oh thank you”.
It’s the perfect ending to an album that’s cerebral, fun and thought provoking, while also being an absolute riot to listen to. On this evidence, Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul could well be the best thing to come out of Belgium since craft beer and artisanal chocolate.