“How do we get back to where we were before?”
This question, culled from the chorus of new song “Outcome,” is at the spiritual and literal center of Anoraak’s new summer EP, Black Gold Sun. But this eternal inquiry we all have at some point shouted at the stars is paradoxically paired with some of Anoraak’s sunniest material in years.
Whereas on last year’s exquisite summer offering, Figure, the Valerie Collective member offered introspection over intricate, more downtempo material, this time around he’s trying to get back that feeling of a fun, endless summer — even if questions still remain.
On Black, the France-based Anoraak, AKA Frédéric Rivière, continues his deft touch at wrapping important questions in contemporary but retro-tinged electronic arrangements. The glue that holds that together, regardless of whether a cut is a vocal pop number or an instrumental? Pure, unadulterated hooks.
The EP, which he released on his own Endless Summer label, kicks off with “Evolve,” a lovely synthpop number featuring Danish singer Lydmor. It’s a quintessentially Anoraak synthpop cut, a tight and warm arrangement with layers of intricate, arpeggiated synthery, which Lydmor’s expressive, Regina Spektoresque delivery complements well. It’s a happy introduction to Black Gold Sun, musically, even if Lydmor’s singing about how she has to change herself to fit her love interest.
Maethelvin’s remix of “Evolve” sheds Rivière’s Wall of Arpeggiators in favor of the former’s fingerprint sounds: A disco-infused minimalism. The presence of Maethelvin, another Valerie Collective member who’s no stranger to remixing his friends, is interesting when you think of the question posed at the beginning of this review. As Rivière reconnects with his Valerie roots, could this collective of brilliant musicians find in their reminiscence an opportunity to put out a full-length release together as a supergroup? Or at least a sequel to 2009’s Valerie and Friends compilation? We shall see.
The other pop cut on the EP is the aforementioned “Outcome,” one of Rivière’s best cuts in years. I’ve already touched on its role as the EP’s apparent central theme, but there’s something else you’ll notice if you listen to back-to-back with “Evolve.” There’s a somewhat mismatched conversation between the female narrator in that song and Rivière in “Outcome.”
As I mentioned earlier, on “Evolve” Lydmor seems to want to change to fit her romantic interest, positing in a self-deprecating way that she needs to evolve to meet the interest where he is at. However, on “Outcome,” Rivière also sings about trying to change things around, but he’s wondering how they get back to where they were before. There’s no need to evolve, friends. You just have to sit down and get real with each other.
The foundation of “Outcome,” my favorite Anoraak cut since 2010’s “Long Hot Summer Night,” is an upbeat, elaborate synthpop banger. It kicks off with Steve Reich-esque marimbas and a wash of synth, before a strong and consistent synth bass and kick drum come into the fold, building some suspenseful momentum. Rivière’s laid-back vocals come in with some brassy synth stabs before it all goes into a worldless, tropical pre-chorus that unleashesa chorus built around Rivière’s mantra on the central theme. There’s an airy bliss to this whole thing, uncertainty notwithstanding. You get the idea that even if answers are hard to find, everything will be all right.
The EPs other cuts are all instrumentals. “Skylines” is the track on which Rivière gets the most nostalgic for his Anoraak project’s earliest run. This is definitely a classic Anoraak/Valerie instrumental number: Driving backbeat, a cadre of shiny arps, beautiful synth pads, and hummable melodies. Although the means is ultimately contemporary, the ends will certainly please the synthwave dogmatics out there. It’s a great cut.
“Last Call” and the title cut are both similarly arped up, driving numbers. The former has an outrun vibe that pairs well with summer road-tripping. The latter is more of a slow-burner, perhaps representing the relaxed, cathartic culmination of said road trip. We’re at our destination. We can get cozy together.
The title cut is in many respects a fitting closer to the core five cuts (not counting the remix). It shows that it’s possible to get back to where we were before, but to do it we also have to embrace the now. You can’t return to a former “home” — whatever “home” was to you — but you can build a new place and pepper it with remnants of the past in a fruitful, rewarding way.
Rivière’s wistfulness isn’t restricted to interpersonal sentiments. This EP marks the return of the musician’s use of Valerie art director Alexander Burkart for the collection’s gorgeous cover art. (Burkart most recently designed the stunning art for College’s Shanghai LP. Full disclosure: He also designed Vehlinggo‘s logo.) Then, of course, there’s Maethelvin’s remix. We’re only missing a few souls here.
I wouldn’t expect Rivière to return to the straight-up synthwave of Anoraak’s 2008 breakout debut, Nightdrive With You. These are different times, after all. However, I think the infusion of those elements, paired with the more modern sounds of Figure, Chrontropic, and Wherever the Sun Sets, makes for an eminently satisfying experience. Rivière sounds reinvigorated by reconciling his past with his present. Now I’m only left to wonder what the future holds. At the very least, I’d take a full-length album, but I’d also accept a new Valerie and Friends compilation.
Anoraak will tour the states this month and next. For more information, keep an eye out on his Facebook page.
Stream the entire album below on Spotify.