Chromeo, Chromeo, wherefore art thou Chromeo…?
The name Romeo means “from Rome”. Similarly, Chromeo should mean “from Chrome”. Combining ’80s excess and glitter with the Shakespearean themes of romance, doomed lovers and young love, the flashy electro-funk duo entitled Chromeo consists of Dave 1 and P-Thugg (civilian names: David Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel).
Last month, they released their latest album in a decade-long career, entitled White Women, after the book of fashion photography of the same name by Helmut Newton. The iconic style of Newton, a “fashion photographer whose provocative, erotically charged black-and-white photos were a mainstay of Vogue and other publications,” gives inspiration to White Women’s album art: a leggy, veiled and faceless bride linking arms with the duo that is Chromeo. Ironically, their name is emblazoned in gold, not chrome–while the band wants to emulate ’80s aesthetics, “Gold-Plated Chromeo” does not roll off the tongue as easily.
Since their first album a decade ago with She’s in Control, the Montreal-based band has pursued a “romantic electro funk” sound. They are mostly compared to other dance-rock musts like Prince, Michael Jackson, Daft Punk and Duck Sauce (a duo that includes Dave 1’s brother, A-Trak aka Alain Macklovitch). This pursuit does not end with White Women, as Chromeo declares on their Facebook page: “Pee (still looking a smooth criminal in a Coogi) and Dave (ever the Semitic/Gallic heartthrob in tight pants) are back.”
White Women’s name, the flashiness, the girls, the excess, and the attitude are all just part of the experience. The album is homage to the music and culture of the late 20th century, with each song a bumbling love letter to a faceless woman of different decade, sang in the styles of their idols and inspirations, but with the added realism of their own modern insecurities and faults.
Dave 1’s breathy voice and funky guitar is excellently combined with the keyboard, talkbox and synthesizer stylings of P-Thugg. Dave belts out Motown, funk, rock, disco, hip hop and R&B inspired vocals while strumming funk and rock guitar parts, while P-Thugg synthesizes like he’s got a quota to meet (the duo apparently employs an “unprecedented analog arsenal”). The album also features famous friends Solange, Toro y Moi, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. Mtume’s Tawatha Agee serves as backup vocalist for a couple of tracks, while Steely Dan’s string conductor Rob Mounsey adds the finishing touches to a few more.
Chromeo pays homage to your favourite sounds from each decade, starting with the ’50s and fist-pumping all the way to the present. They certainly linger in the ’80s, and make a stopover in the ’90s, before choosing to settle down in the flashiest, shiniest decade most deserving of the name Chromeo. You WILL develop ’80s fever at some point during the album, but luckily there is more than enough cowbell featured to treat the condition.
Album opener and hit single “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” begins with a twangy, pop-infused and modern guitar riff and a beat that reminds the listener of Eric Prydz’s “Call on Me” – and the ’80s workout video that goes along with it. P-Thugg originally thought the track was “too Katy Perry” but the song has been compared to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with its blend of funk-infused guitar riffs, high energy beats, and high falsetto.
The video for “Jealous” makes the band out to be this year’s LMFAO, with folks dressed in wacky ’80s inspired clothing and the duo surrounded by neon lights throughout their goofy adventures. However, the decade isn’t a trendy throwback for Chromeo – it’s a lifestyle and an inspiration. Like Jay and Silent Bob, Dave 1 struts around like a struggling lady-killer and P-Thugg is the strong and silent comic relief who proves to be the brains behind the operation.
The second track (and single off) of White Women is the funky “Come Alive”, with a guest appearance from Toro y Moi. The video for “Come Alive” Dave 1 in a Michael Jackson-inspired red leather jacket, suitably singing MJ-esque melodies. Breathy shudders and ear-piercing highs are almost lost within the quirky keyboard beat, but Toro’s unique voice helps to bring a new dimension to the track.
In “Over Your Shoulder”, Dave lowers his register for the beginning of the song in an unexpected twist, but quickly resumes his falsetto layered with female vocals for the chorus. Lots of keyboard and a Bee Gees-sounding bassline lead into riffs seemingly transplanted from a Pink Floyd song. “Sexy Socialite” has a Felix Da Housecat beat, and features talk-singing vocals à la Cake or Talking Heads as well as the instrumentals and effects of an ELO track. All of this is combined with (of course) a falsetto chorus, a fumbling rap verse, and more surprisingly, a Nicki Minaj soundalike arguing with Dave 1 over her status as a ‘Sexy Socialite’. Finally the vocoder takes temporary control before the song fades out in a whisper.
The next track “Lost on the Way Home” features Queen B’s sister herself–Solange Knowles. Usually the sister of a queen is called a princess, but this collaboration proves that Solange rules in her own right as Empress. “Lost on the Way Home” layers her pitch perfect, R&B inspired vocals together, adding tambourine, piano, drums, and of course a funky guitar riff to create a cinematic and catchy beat. Dave 1 croons between Solange’s interludes, backed by sci-fi sounds and dropping beats, but Solange steals the show.
Duran Duran fans will appreciate Dave 1’s vocal pacing in “Play the Fool”. This track begins with the most ’80s beat imaginable, transitions into a techno beat with disco influences, and continues to add layer after layer of nostalgia atop a quick-paced drum beat. Listeners are reminded of everything from Sonic the Hedgehog levels to ELO songs. A softer song on the album, “Hard to Say No”, is as light as bubblegum pop. Rob Mounsey leaves his recognizable impression on the easy-listening, electronic disco track.
Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend contributes the piano-led, bittersweet “Ezra’s Interlude”. His slow piano and warm voice are joined by the electric stylings of P-Thugg, and husky backup vocals by Dave 1, but overall the song is short and sweet. Unfortunately, it ends as abruptly and inexplicably as it begins.
“Old 45’s” begins with a familiar beat that’s half “99 Luftballons” and half “Thriller”. The song is classic ’80s pop-rock with a toe-tapping beat until they surprise you with a softer chorus, “If you think romance is dead and gone/Find an old jukebox full of 45’s/Pop a nickel in it and it all comes back”. Add in a guitar solo and an ending that has Dave pleading “Dance with me”. The combined sentimentalism and nostalgia means we’ve found this year’s prom song.
Surely the recording session of “Somethinggood” had at least one person screaming MORE COWBELL! Another song filled with funky guitar riffs and synths with masterfully intertwined vocals from Dave 1 and Tawatha Agee.. The song’s quick pace builds to a crescendo of voices panting the chorus before settling into a slower and funkier beat, gently fading out.
By this point in the album, so much synth has been used, you might start to wonder if Chromeo is really comprised of two androids. In “Frequent Flyer”, Dave goes full Mr. Roboto, kept company by a larger-than-life chorus provided by Agee. The band claims the “pulsating” Frequent Flyer “offer[s] moments that would make Hall & Oates and Wham green with envy.”
The final and second longest track on the album, “Fall Back 2U”, is a song entirely too easy to shuffle and clap to. Chromeo even helpfully includes the clapping sounds in their song, so dancing on a light-up dance floor is made that much easier. Paired with a saxophone and strings, it’s easy to imagine John Travolta or Michael Jackson dancing to this infectious beat. Eventually a vocoder changes the song into a more Daft Punk-inspired beat complete with repeating syllables, synth, rosbotic voices and all.
If P-Thugg and Dave are Jay and Silent Bob, then White Women is a coming-of-age story spanning several decades in the theme of Clerks: it’s funny, low-brow at times, borders on being offensive to women, but is also brutally honest and real. “White Women perpetuates and elevates Chromeo’s existing blueprint: sexy funk, ass-targeting beats, melodic honey, and smart lyrics about the foibles of contemporary love,” claims the band. Their lyrics vary from song to song in order to match the decade and genre they hope to emulate, but overall they are simplistic and predictable, while also being heartfelt and genuine, and a little crude, much like a teenage love letter.
Chromeo has just announced their new tour, taking place this fall. The Frequent Flyer Tour will include dates in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton.
Check out Chromeo!
Author: Sarah Gordier