This Shoes article was written by Fraisia Dunn, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Gavin Wells. Header image by Romain Bernardie James.
The Shoes are a duo from Reims, France, comprised of Guillaume Brière and Benjamin Lebeau. They have produced all kinds of big names from Pharrell Williams to Ladyhawke. Their musical work fits in the great French disco groove alongside acts like Daft Punk and Air.
For the most part their new album, ‘Chemicals’, their second since 2011’s ‘Crack My Bones’, is a good pop record. There are some catchy beats here that wouldn’t be out of place in a lot of trendy, chart based nightclubs. But occasionally there is a tiny glimpse of more; when this twosome get a bit experimental there is some promise of some great composition and intelligence shining through. Each track has vocals from a different artist, which leads to a diverse range of songs that don’t entirely hang well together.
The first track, ‘Submarine’, is fronted by Blaine Harrison from The Mystery Jets. His slightly broken, mature sounding downbeat tone is perfectly suited to give some shape and soul to the cool electronica of The Shoes themselves. The track starts off with the vocal and some piano stabs before a Groove Armada-like drum line breathes in. This one definitely has a hint of Air about it.
Then, something strange happens, about half way through some ‘studio talk’ suddenly erupts – this disruption heralds a series of strange drum rolls, bleeping and general breaking down before the tune is once again resolved into minimal piano and vocals. This resolution is so convincing that the listener is almost persuaded that the strange interruption didn’t occur at all.
The next two tracks are good commercial poppy EDM. Fine, but not particularly exciting. Then the third song, ‘Drifted’, blindsides again with a strange slippage between the two melodies that allows emotion to shine through the crack in the glaze of perfect French electronica. ‘Vortex of Love’ follows, again featuring Blaine Harrison. This is quite a pleasing but cheesy number featuring the lyrics, “You’re like an eagle, like a vulture of love.” The tambourine introduced near the end hints at a baggy tone. The horns build up to that most hipster of endings – the no-drop. That just leaves you there, pretending it’s absolutely cool that there was no pay-off.
But there are some true highlights on this album, ‘Feed the Ghost’, the penultimate tune features a trinity of Blue Daisy, Amateur Best and Black Atlas is something a bit more cerebral. Blue Daisy’s vocal is mesmerising, he has the perfect tone for this paranoid, down, almost trip-hoppy tune. Amateur Best’s melody almost sounds like a voice from another era. When the tune starts to unravel, to almost fall apart, there is just the one simple underlying line that hangs it all together, like the hope for the human condition.
So, a lot of ‘Chemicals’ isn’t all that original or ground-breaking, but just occasionally something seeps through – these two boys decide to experiment a bit and the results are interesting, emotional and perhaps lead to something new.