The first thing that strikes you when you put on Petite Noir’s EP The King of Anxiety is that he’s probably not lying. Every song is repetitive in a frantic way, searching, but come to the conclusion there is no rest for the weary. The second thing you notice is the breadth of his music; each track is pure New Wave; clicks, synthy synths, drums that have been programmed instead of played. Repetitive. Circuital. Electric. The wide range of vocals and emotion are on full display. And the combination of the two produces something that feels original and familiar.
“Come Inside,” the first track, sings the body electric, a digital spiritual. The guitar hums along to the melody, becoming an extension of Yannick Iluga, the man behind the name, and when he stops singing, the guitar pleads on. Iluga paints moods unlike any other singer of his stripe, and that he’s responsible for the instruments and production is unfair. “When I fall, you welcome me inside” This thread of going back, being home, and the strain of a relationship plays throughout the EP like a mystery told bottom to top.
On “Chess” he plays New Order better than almost any other, even New Order themselves lately. The tension builds and builds over a I-IV repetition as he sings a conversation (chess game) between a woman and a man (a la “Don’t You Want Me,” by Human League), falsetto into a baritone, like a reverse David Bowie, except neither person in this song are particularly “Heroes.” He finally releases after 6 minutes with a very tired “We gotta go back, gotta go back, gotta go back, gotta go back”
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“Shadows” swings a bit like you’d expect a South African musician to swing; more syncopated than straight. His vocals bounce along to the beat showing a full range that’s at times Robert Smith, at times Sade, and at times he’s one of the Righteous Brothers. Lyrically, it’s the reverse of the others, as he admits to his share of the strain. “I’ll be there for sure” turns into “always on the tour.”
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Echoes of TV on the Radio shine through in “Til We Ghosts,” which isn’t a bad thing (I called them one of the best bands of the last 15 years). The quiet, trance-like verses are interrupted with a barrage of a chorus. The song is marked by an apology; “I’m never gonna see that girl again.” The mystery unravels further; the title declares until death do we part. (I will say, personally, I prefer the EP version without Yasiin Bey, despite being a fan of his career as Mos Def.)
“The Fall” follows along the same lines, but if TVotR was doing a Peter Gabriel cover. The lyrics are punctuated by the same kind of vocal undulations of Lead Belly’s “Take This Hammer” or The Pretender’s “Back on the Chain Gang,” drawing the conclusion that relationships too are hard work. The lyrics here, though, are the most ambiguous of the album: “The Fall” seems to be the nexus of all the problems, and if he means falling in love, who is he falling in love with?
Unlike other powerful male vocals (blowhards) that have been in vogue, Petite Noir has a unique sense of production that complement his voice. It’s a complex net of straight/syncopated, falsetto/baritone, even woman/man. And unlike many other artists, he has the patience to create a world in an EP that unfolds with each listen, rather than throwing filler in there and calling it an LP. Hopefully soon, for our sake, he gets to work on that.
Article by: Christopher Gilson