Contrasting first impressions taken from the first two music videos (“Prince de Combat” and “Minuit”) that circulate the internet from the new project from ex-Fenster member Letournelle Remé, are that he either believes he’s a spiritual monk preparing to be a samurai or that he possesses a goofy sense of humour. Thoughts about this personality are brought to attention before you notice his mixture of alternative electropop dreaminess, occasional exotic rhythms, french-accent seduction and psychobabble speeches on his debut EP Steps; making him this year’s Sébastien Tellier.
This is particularly noticeable on the tropical house and sparkly sleigh-bells percussion of “Sun Moon”. Although Remé’s project Slow Steve is less inclined towards psychedelic and progressive pop elements of his fellow Frenchman and prefers to enjoy creating layers of synth confusion and hypnotic analogue noise that can place it’s listeners in an odd dance floor trance.
Imitating 1990s video camera techniques complete with wavy videotape tracking lines, the promo for “Prince De Combat” shows Remé’s alter ego Slow Steve in training mode: jogging, tai chi movements, karate kicking and yoga-meditating. He is blissfully unaware that the modern world co-exists around him. His exclaim, “you were just screaming at me but I couldn’t help it“, is appropriately and obsessively disengaged from the world.
The musical content can be both tranquil and suffocating. The melancholic side of 80s synthpop, most notably Gary Numan, Japan and Depeche Mode are evident in the relaxing pressed keyboards and simplistic notes as Remé adopts a Erlend Øye-like comforting guidance. Yet the gloomy key changes and the sticky coating of fuzzy static spraying and amplifier distortion, that grow gradually in it’s intensity until it floods the atmosphere, isn’t quite zen.
The French werewolf in France themed-music video shows his sense of humour and is an extension of the wolf howls at the beginning of “Minuit“. It’s an upbeat affair with sniffy snares, low-fi analogue sounds and propeller-cutting swirls. Whilst the disorientated keyboards in the backdrop are reminiscent of the intro to Björk’s “Mouth’s Cradle”. The repetitive lyrics and duplicated backing vocals are phrased in a similar fashion to Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”: “Life goes nowhere, why I do I care? Trying is not fair, why do I care?“, but sung in a nonchalant manner somewhere between Ariel Pink and E from Eels. This is one of many songs that appear to feature an electric organ sound, “Break My Sound” is another example. Mismatched looping of immoral industrial electronica groan over the ecclesiastical instrument in an intoxicating yet short interlude.
Like on most of the album, unpolished recording noise exists on “Aquabed” to give a unique and atmospheric production sound and particularly on here, it’s in the form of an accidentally-found radio transmission. The semi-cyborg French-language voice gives it a futuristic setting and the soft immobile keyboards make it soporific enough to induce narcoleptic symptoms.
The voice is more robotic in “Vostok” – utilizing vocoders – and is quintessential French. The fusion of Air’s downtempo patience yet mesmerizing direction and Daft Punk’s musical dehumanization give it that feel, despite the name relating to a spacecraft built by the Soviet Union. The ticking clock, metallic-construction sounds and the line: “Waiting for so long“, could easily relate to the first human spaceflight in history in 1961, undertaken by the aforementioned Russian technology and matches nicely with Air’s own space-themed enterprise “Surfing on a Rocket”.
Slow Steve label Moor music has labelled the EP as Mantra Pop and his utterance suggests that he does have some kind of doctrine. Disappointingly, it’s lyrically anticlimactic. The words are so obscure, incomprehensible and minimal that you are left feeling empty, without really knowing what his divine mantra is. It’s not helped by the track “Sun Moon”, where Remé’s voice uncharacteristically slurs in an off key manner in the spectrum of Morrisey and Bob Dylan.
If you can’t speak French, the final track will also add to the bamboozlement. Perhaps it would have been better if the whole album was in English or French or even a completely fictional language like in the case of Sigur Rós – where ambiguity could be interpreted throughout – to better shape the concept awareness with a more solid consistency. Maybe the subsequent LP will be a more insightful second impression.
Words by Matt Hobbs