College Is Back: ‘Old Tapes’ Album Shows the Magic Behind the Pioneer’s Art

To celebrate 10 years of composing music under his most notable pseudonym, synth producer David “College” Grellier has released Old Tapes, a 14-track collection of demos/rarities going back to 2006. It’s a gorgeous, contemplative, and engaging work.

The album takes us through a decade-long journey, giving an intimate look into the inner-workings of the Nantes, France-based artist who’s brought us cuts like “Save The Day” (with Nola Wren), the exquisite “Teenage Color,” “Une Ville Silencieuse,” and, of course, “A Real Hero” (with Electric Youth).

Album cover for 'Old Tapes.' Art by Alexander Burkart.
Album cover for ‘Old Tapes.’ Art by Alexander Burkart.

Album opener “Amira” has been flying around the Internet for years as a tender and quintessentially College cut. I’m glad he’s decided to include it.

Self-titled song “College” highlights one of College’s strongest qualities: the ability to create emotionally complex and intricate arrangements from the most minimal of parts. In that respect, not just because of its title, this song could serve as a theme song for Grellier’s famous musical project.

Album single “Auto Pilot” could easily sit alongside College’s aughts work, its synth melodies, arpeggiated bass, and straightforward drum beats all evoking something serious and perhaps even wistful. I think about its music video, which takes place in abandoned malls: It’s an apt meditation on how our modern consumer culture unceremoniously discards even our most sacred spaces. Even without the video’s context, it’s safe to say “Auto Pilot” tackles a sadder side of nostalgia.

Of course, the cuts also get upbeat. “Dynamic Vision” has all the hallmarks of a danceable College number: driving backbeat, tight bass, and a minimalist melody and harmony you’ll likely be humming long after the song’s done. There’s also the similarly fortified “Just in Your Heart,” which has a main synth concoction that borders on the chiptune side of things. “Assault on Liberty” — a title that certainly stands out — also stomps along marvelously, but with a much fatter snare than we’re used to from College.

“Solaria Park” is one of the cuts on the album that sounds the most like a demo, and it’s fascinating. It’s got a harsher disco backbeat and a raw cascade of fuzzy and fat synths. This is a highly valuable track on the LP, because it opens a window into the various tendencies of Grellier’s pioneering use of retro elements to create something new and modern.

Although College as a project is 10 years old, Grellier has been making computer music a lot longer than that. He scored his first computer in the late 90s, producing demos inspired by the likes of Aphex Twin and Jeff Mills, and labels such as Soma, Warp, and Peacefrog. He’s also delved in electroclash with the Sexy Sushi project.

Nevertheless, Grellier’s College work is my favorite of his offerings. Through it, he adds a high degree of emotional intelligence and spiritual connection to his realm of electronic music. Alone, this serves to at least make me feel more connected with everything. When he collaborates with others, whether it be Electric Youth, Wren, or his Valerie friends, the results are even more potent.

I should note that the timing of Old Tapes seems meaningful. It seems to represent the closing of one era, as College enters a new one with Shanghai, the forthcoming album of new material to be released by Invada Records.

On that note, Old Tapes’ closer “Limitless” makes for a fine conclusion. Its suspensful pulsating synth machinations and windy pad lead, which interact with a wobbly organ, serve the dual purpose of evoking the type of positive sense of catharsis that comes from finishing something satisfactorily, while opening the door to an entirely whole new world.

There’s hope through College.

You can buy the Valerie-released Old Tapes from the likes of iTunes and similar stores in your respective nations, including the U.S. It’s also on Spotify, but maybe just buy it and help an independent artist more comprehensively? UPDATE: A limited edition vinyl version is available via Bordello a Parigi.

Don’t forget to read Vehlinggo’s big story on the Drive soundtrack, which features interviews with College, Electric Youth, Johnny Jewel, and Cliff Martinez. College has also shown up in interviews on his own in two different and compelling parts.