[13th March 2013]
[Green United Music]
01. The Golden Age
02. Run Boy Run
03. The Great Escape
04. Boat Song
05. I Love You
06. The Shore
07. Ghost Lights
09. Stabat Mater
10. Conquest of Spaces
12. Where I Live
14. The Other Side
The word “heavy” being used to describe a bands sound is all to common, and with the amount of blaring guitars and double bass heard in many of todays bands, “heavy” seems like the appropriate term to be used. But is it possible for an album to be heavy without actually having any heaviness to it? By definition, heavy describes an object of great weight, quantity, or size. So, could “heavy” simply refer to a feeling or emotion an album conveys when one listens to it? Is it possible for an album that contains no electric instruments, able to hit just as hard as an album built around an orchestra? Again – can an album be considered heavy without actually being heavy? At one time or another, this may have been answered with a resounding no – but with the release of the debut album by French singer-songwriter and director Yoann Lemoine – aka Woodkid - The Golden Age, which is as Yoann states, “hopefully, nothing you’ve ever heard before,” we may just find ourselves asking that question again, this time with a different answer.
Although music was a big part of his life growing up, Lemoine crafted his skills as a director – so much so that he’s lent his talents creating brilliant music videos for a few mainstream artists, such as Drake, Rihanna, and Lana Del Rey – but it was his first short film that altered his path towards music. For the film, Lemoine felt he needed to include his own music, and in doing so, wrote his first song, “Iron”, which eventually propelled his writing process even further due to it being very popular with listeners. So in the span of two years, he released the Iron EP (2011) and the Run Boy Run – Remixes EP (2012), which ultimately lead to his debut full-length, The Golden Age – which features his titular song, “Iron”. So even though he sits comfortably firm in the directors chair, his keen ability at crafting beautiful and emotional music cannot be ignored, nor should it be contained.
The Golden Age begins with the title track, a bold but ultimately smart move, as the gentle passage of the piano welcomes the listener with a warm embrace and sets up the overall tone of the album. Eventually Lemoine’s vocals come in, and keeping in time with the pace of the keys, he weaves his tale. It should be noted, while he may not the most ground-breaking vocalist, what he lacks in range, he more than makes up for by singing with conviction, vision and heart. You can practically feel the emotion through every spoken word – and his accent adds charm and memorability to verses/choruses that may have otherwise sounded plain in the hands of someone else, taking his delivery even further, and giving the songs a more lasting feel. The song continues building up momentum until it reaches the mid-section, which soon breaks into an uplifting horn section, bringing the song to a galloping pace. This coupled with Lemoine’s somber vocal approach, gives the song a strong and powerful punch, while also highlighting the full use of the orchestra.
Whereas the title track establishes a message of peace and prosperity, its real meaning should not be misconstrued; the golden age is over, and the general theme of the album is that of escaping the ways of old while trying to reclaim ones self in the process. The tracks that soon follow exhibit that sense of freedom and escapism, as “Run Boy Run” serves as the introduction to the story Lemoine is telling – and being one of the more faster-paced tracks, it maintains its flow with a tribal-esque drum beat that carries the song through its robust verses and soaring choruses, and closes with an overly bombastic outro. Continuing with that pace, “The Great Escape” is by far the most upbeat track on the album, which helps in lightening up the overall darker tone of the album, which soon makes its return in the melancholic and haunting “Boat Song”, which is largely driven by the subdued crooning of the horns and piano.
Next we come to the highlight of this album, which is also one of the strongest tracks. “I Love You”, is Woodkid at his best. With a pop sensibility to it, the song is quick to make itself memorable, and one you’ll be coming back to for repeat listens. Intimate and grand, the vocals are heartfelt, and the musical arrangement of the violins is highly engaging as they ascend throughout the song and eventually reach moments of cinematic grace as the song draws to a close.
From here the album proceeds to slow down, shifting gears for more low-key and denser tracks. “The Shore”, “Ghost Lights”, and “Shadows” all seem irrelevant when compared to the first half of The Golden Age, but this doesn’t mean they should be skipped. On the contrary, these are hidden gems, as each track offers another side of Woodkid. “The Shore” is a peaceful and romantic ballad (of sorts), with Lemoine lamenting poetically over the soft melody of the ivory keys, as a slowly increasing build up adds an overwhelming sense of urgency to the track. “Ghost Lights” is an eerie set-piece, with instrumentation ranging from the accordion to the pipe organ, and backed by a hypnotic drum pattern throughout. The only instrumental track on the album, “Shadows”, continues the mood set by the former tracks and is the perfect segue-way into the grandiose “Stabat Mater”.
Closing strong in its final act, The Golden Age reaches moments of whimsical and otherworldly heights in “Conquest of Spaces” which bleeds into the unsettling filler track “Falling”, than showing its strength in the likes of “Where I Live”, which is steeped in dark tones, to the triumphant and boastful “Iron”. On the final track, “The Other Side”, military-esque drums guide the song, as if marching towards its inevitable end, as church bells ring out and a swelling choir bring the album to its despairing close.
The Golden Age is an engaging album that ascends into moments of hope, yet finds itself descending into the darkest of depths in the human psyche. It is an album that requires multiple listens, and all the way through, so as to let its story sink in. The orchestral elements are potent and powerful, yet never in your face. And Lemoine’s vocals, while soothing to the ear, are a cascade of emotions that blend well with the music and give the album its driving force. The only faults that come to mind are some of the tracks have abrupt endings; rather than extending for another measure or two, which would keep the momentum and energy going, they sort of trail off. Other than that, the album is produced well, nothing is overblown or glaring in the mix, and all instrumentation share the spotlight with each other, as well as the vocals – rather than fighting for it and overshadowing each other in the process.
Showcasing a different way to be heavy, The Golden Age hits hard on an emotional and musical level throughout its fourteen tracks. It is a positive start for Lemoine in his musical journey, and time will only tell if his persona, Woodkid, will continue on this road. Because if The Golden Age is any indication of what he can do, than we’ll be in for a treat come his next endeavor.