When Daft Punk released their Grammy-winning retro-dance monolith ‘Random Access Memories’ in 2013, it wasn’t just an attempt to expand their repertoire—it was a challenge for the electronic scene to step out of its comfort zone. “We wanted to do what we used to do with machines and samplers, but with people,” the robots told Rolling Stone in an interview. That album became a thrown gauntlet from France’s lively electronic scene to the rest of the world, challenging artists to make reflective music drawing from dance music’s disco roots. Four years later, French producer and DJ Yuksek has taken up the challenge with ‘Nous Horizon’ (pronounced “New Horizons”), reaffirming that his country is a major trailblazer of the post-disco scene.
‘Nous Horizon’ is required listening for anyone who thinks dance parties are just about waiting for the beat to drop. Song structures aren’t an afterthought here; the tracks sound fresh because they’re built over a foundation of sturdy writing. It helps that the guest vocalists excel at bringing the songs to life without stealing the show or detracting from the music. Standout track ‘Complicated’ is a master class in self-control. Guest vocalist Her deftly navigates a gorgeous chord progression that swells towards a climactic chorus—but instead of exploding into a clichéd, bombastic hook, Her takes a backseat and lets the controlled intensity of Yuksek’s writing and production shine.
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Ultimately, vocals aren’t the heart of ‘Nous Horizon.’ Guest singers are carefully selected (Monika is the perfect fit for songs like ‘Make It Easy’), but as with much dance music the lyrics are hardly profound enough to warrant taking center stage. And when the vocals get too close to the spotlight, they can falter under the pressure—several attempts to emulate disco-era spoken monologues come across as clunky rather than nostalgic. Luckily Yuksek keeps the focus on the album’s greatest strength: its retro, 70s-era grooves. There’s DNA from tons of dance music pioneers floating around: Chic-style guitar comping can be heard in ‘Sweet Addiction,’ the riffs in ‘Golden Age’ sound eerily familiar to a certain Michael Jackson hit, and half the remaining tracks might as well be tributes to Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love.’ The result is an album that consistently moulds two generations of dance music into a single sound.
Ironically, this is also the project’s greatest weakness. Its sound isn’t rooted in any single time period, but there’s no standout single that makes it feel timeless. Yuksek distinguishes himself from other contemporary DJs by looking back towards dance music’s roots, but he doesn’t counterbalance that by pushing the genre forward enough. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories felt like an important junction because it paid homage to legends like Giorgio Moroder, but also reached towards the future by committing to their futuristic vocoder aesthetic and pumping out enduring hits like ‘Get Lucky.’ In that respect, the album title is a misnomer—the beauty of ‘Nous Horizons’ isn’t the dawning of a new era of dance music, but rather its celebration of the genre’s golden years.
‘Nous Horizon’ is out on the 24th February 2015 via Partyfine.