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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Melody’s Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage Music Album Reviews

Melody’s Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage Music Album Reviews
Six years and one nearly fatal accident after her promising debut, French singer-songwriter Melody Prochet celebrates her recovery with an album of gleefully overstuffed psych-pop.

Melody’s Echo Chamber’s Bon Voyage is one of those “highly anticipated” albums that are as haunted as they are hyped, with fans’ excitement for the music giving way to concern for its creator. French psych-pop artist Melody Prochet isn’t a celebrity, but the travails she underwent while finishing her second LP were newsworthy: It ends with a song originally released in 2014. “A million hours of work” went into her sessions with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Prochet’s now-ex-boyfriend and the producer on her self-titled 2012 debut. The most distressing setback was a nearly fatal accident that led to a broken vertebra, a brain aneurysm, and an understandably canceled tour. (Prochet has underplayed the incident, allowing only that it “broke a life pattern that didn’t work for me.”) Instead of responding to that turn of events with a cleansing, sober album of plainspoken acoustics, Prochet celebrated her emotional and physical recovery by taking gleeful, blindfolded swings at an overstuffed piñata of psychedelic candy.

The sound capitalizes on the strengths of Prochet’s collaborators: Swedish psych fixtures Fredrik Swahn of the Amazing and Reine Fiske of Dungen, as well as Nicholas Allbrook of Australia’s Pond—three artists whose adventures in blissed-out trippiness are only intermittently concerned with structure—served as the record’s musical and spiritual advisers. Opener “Cross My Heart” begins with a 12-string guitar figure that could’ve appeared on any of the above musicians’ releases, or as a continuation of the stylish pop modes on Melody’s Echo Chamber. But, after 30 seconds, the intro gives way to an album’s worth of instruments and production tricks: grainy string sections, close-mic’d drum rolls, twittering flute, double bass, and a breakdown into beatboxing and synthesized record scratching. It’s the raw materials of an Avalanches track and their finished sample collage at the same time.

Prochet’s private psychedelic reel toggles between English, French, and Swedish lyrics; analog purism and postmodern pranks; soul-cleansing screams and a spoken-word bit from Allbrook about fucking and shitting himself at the moment of his death. Though the sacred texts it cites fall firmly within the syllabus of the lysergic ’60s and ’70s, Bon Voyage feels more spiritually indebted to the pancultural, track-stuffing maximalism of the late ’90s—sound for sound’s sake, the result of indiscriminately rummaging through heavy deep cuts and easy-listening kitsch alike. The difference is that the irony and detachment that defined that era are absent; while Prochet is content to let her vocals serve as one of the album’s infinite luscious textures, her immediately intelligible lyrics are pull quotes that hint at the central tensions behind Bon Voyage. The paralyzing pain of its backstory coexists with the overwhelming joy of its creation.

But the record is almost entirely beholden to this subtextual reading, and it’s a hard one to uphold for 33 minutes. Prochet’s willingness to lose herself and the listener in a reverie starts to yield diminishing returns. Bon Voyage is overflowing with ideas, and their splattered presentation ultimately brings to mind Robert Frost’s saying about free-verse poetry: It’s like playing tennis without a net. The whistled bubblegum hook of “Breathe in, Breathe Out” is given as much weight as its momentum-killing bridge. Hearing the mammoth drum fills on “Quand Les Larmes D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige” once or twice is a kick that becomes numbing after more than seven minutes. “Desert Horse” contains the most arresting lyrical image—“So much blood on my hands/And not much left to destroy”—but it subjects Prochet’s voice to shrieking octave shifts, Auto-Tune, insectoid buzz, Arabic ululations, and rinky-dink drum machines. It’s both Prochet’s most emotionally invested performance and the one with the most distractions.

That chaos is apparently by design, though: Prochet has described “Desert Horse” as a document of “becoming an adult woman in a mad world.” And as tempting as it is to consider what Bon Voyage could’ve been with more focus and grounding, there is no alternate-universe version to separate the album’s maddening density from its immediate appeal. Despite the scattered song structures, the tracks unite to form a strangely cohesive whole; squishy funk-pop jam “Shirim” sounds like it was recorded in a bouncy castle, and “Desert Horse” seems to spill out from a padded room furnished with Pro Tools, but they’re both chasing the same antic impulses. Bon Voyage celebrates the catharsis of clearing away old wreckage, but it also revels in replacing that mess with new toys.

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