Yelle takes those signature elements soaring to a much higher level—one that’s more mature, but upon first listen nowhere near as fun.
Too often, an artist’s sophomore album gets tossed aside, written off as either failing to live up to the first album’s standards or being so far off base from the debut sound that it’s not taken seriously. French electro-pop group Yelle is out to prove those assumptions wrong, and their latest effort, Safari Disco Club, makes you think twice about writing them off. In case you have been living under a rock (or limit your musical preferences to American or British acts), the group consists of two producer/musicians dubbed GrandMarnier and Tepr and singer Julie Budet, who goes by the moniker Yelle. In 2007 they released their first album, Pop Up, which received some acclaim in France, hitting number 61 on the French top albums chart. It also attracted some attention in the United States as it reached its peak position of number eight on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart here during 2007.
Pop Up is immediately recognizable by its lo-fi beats and sequences, handclaps, and mischievous lyrics sung in a cheerful rap-like cadence. The follow-up album, Safari Disco Club,comes after a 4-year break, and on it Yelle takes those signature elements soaring to a much higher level—one that’s more mature, but upon first listen nowhere near as fun. What can be gleaned upon first listen is that the production here is glossy; the latest Yelle album is so slick you could slip on it. This is inevitably the most obvious change that those who remember the group from their Pop Up days will notice. Subsequent listens of Safari Disco Club will uncover correlations to other electro-pop artists (both past and present) and some fun lyrics and French turns of phrase.
The title track opens the album with a steel drum din and safari-esque beat behind inviting, lofty, ultra-demure vocals. Yelle sings, “Les animaux dansent dans le Safari Disco Club,” (animals are dancing in the Safari Disco Club). It’s not exactly clear whether this is innocent fun or a coy way to cover some kind of social commentary. After an opening sequence reminiscent of Royskopp, “Comme Un Enfant” moves into Depeche Mode territory with what sounds like a lift from “Just Can’t Get Enough,” and keeps the listener engaged with funky beats, a mix of brash and airy vocals, and an über-catchy chorus.
“Chimie Physique,” roughly translated “physical chemistry,” finds Yelle singing over a mesmerizing 1980s nouveau-wave beat. This is a song exploding with sexual energy. Yelle sings lyrics like “Je n’était pourtant pas vraiment la plus belle / Mais tu étais le plus beau / Nos deux corps nus allongés sous le soleil / Chaud mélange de peau, de peau” (Though I wasn’t really the most beautiful, you were the best / Our two naked bodies lying under the sun, hot mixture of hides, skins), with such a strong tone of desire and hunger.
“Mon Pays” is undoubtedly the anthem for the young and confused artists of France, though it can equally be adopted by young and confused artists any and everywhere. Yelle declares love for her country, but she’s packing her bags and leaving tomorrow due to deeply needing (“j’ai besoin” or “I need” is repeated several times) a change of plans and love in her life. Though it feels like a lazy comparison, “Unillusion” sounds like a JUSTICE (who also happen to be French) song mixed just for Yelle. It takes the listener to the dimly lit underground dance clubs of Paris, where glitter rains from the sky and flashing strobes simulate lightning.
Safari Disco Club is all around a more refined follow-up to 2007’s Pop Up. The album makes a transition from rapping to a lot more singing. But Yelle still sings in a stereotypical French girly and seductive manner, and though she’s not singing about one’s lack of manhood (cue Pop Up’s “Je Veux Te Voir”), her lyrics still revolve around sexually charged exploits and the silly mysteries of life for a 20-something. It is obvious, however, that there was more thoughtful attention paid to song construction in the production of Safari Disco Club, and unlike many sophomore releases it should not be stashed away or brushed aside. This album warrants multiple listens, and it will stick in your head and permeate your dreams so much you might wake up dancing and speaking en français. B+ | Jenn Metzler
Originally posted at Playback:STL, May 2nd, 2011.