Hugo Leclercq makes you wonder what went wrong in your own life. Aged just 20, the Nantais musician is releasing his first album, Adventure, on Columbia Records. That in itself isn’t particularly bewildering, though considering his burst into the spotlight almost four years ago courtesy of a remix contest triumph (Pendulum’s ‘The Island’) and his incredible ‘Pop Culture’ live mashup of 29 songs, you begin to get a better picture of his perhaps prodigal aptitude.
Since, he’s seemed to be rather silent. After the charting singles ‘Icarus’, ‘Finale’ and ‘The City’ in 2011 and 2012, ‘Technicolor’ snuck out in mid-2013 to a limited online release, before he vanished from the radio. Of course that time was being put to good use, as he picked up production credits for the likes of Muse, Lady Gaga, Two Door Cinema Club, Ellie Goulding, and Coldplay. The climax of this period comes in the form of Adventure.
As the very existence of the ‘Pop Culture’ mashup may suggest, Leclercq is not afraid of embracing the glorious nature of pop music. ‘Isometric’ is the greatest sonic hype-man effort to kick off an album since ‘Give Life Back To Music’ from Daft Punk’s latest album Random Access Memories. Swiftly following are a barrage of euphoric Radio 1-friendly singles, including the Passion Pit collaboration ‘Pay No Mind’ and soulful leader ‘You’re On’, anchored by Cambridge’s Kyan.
Adventure isn’t all enthusiastic pop-house, though. Lead single ‘Imperium’, which debuted in FIFA 15, is an assertive display of Leclercq’s abilities. With gritty percussion and raucous energy, it signals a meander through the second half of the album that doesn’t match the sugary vibrancy of the opening stanzas. That’s no bad thing, though. Whilst ‘Zephyr’ certainly takes more cues from the opening vocal tracks, ‘Nonsense’ follows the lead of ‘Imperium’ with a throbbing persistence and somewhat of a cockiness, especially in the vocal delivery from Foster The People’s title character Mark Foster.
In many ways, it’s the perfect pop song. It urges you to sing along defiantly with a slight smirk, belting out the nonsensical chorus in perfect unison. Then, as you’d expect from Foster – whose biggest hit ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ was so happy and joyous that he decided to write lyrics about a school shooting for it to restore the cultural equilibrium – it’s far darker and self aware lyrically than your normal fare. Centring upon the pain of love and written on Madeon’s birthday, it’s a rather splendid tune with a permeating aura of gloom. Such moods continue through the closing tracks ‘Innocence’ featuring Aquilo, ‘Pixel Empire’ and ‘Home’, a song which was made after Madeon locked himself in a room to get some music made and deals vocally with the torment that creatives suffer when they feel that their work is inadequate. Leclercq himself picks up vocal duties, sounding fragile and lending the track a personal touch that, as he himself put it, no other vocalist could adequately convey.
The tracks, as I’ve discussed, are perfectly splendid in isolation, though where Adventure cements its place as one of my favourite electronic albums (and, unlike that last Daft Punk record, I say this after 6 weeks of repeated listens in order to be certain in printing my hyperbole) is through its cohesiveness as, well, an album. The music videos released so far help to illustrate the tale of Asteria and Icarus (remember that dude?) in their attempt to escape a futuristic city and break into the desert, where a mysterious obelisk looms.
True, it’s mildly clichéd, but Leclercq has constructed a splendid multimedia experience. Even the minutiae of the artwork, which he designed himself, depicts the stages of the arduous journey of the pair through the singles by their place on the album. There’s even a website inspired by the Novation Launchpad (as demonstrated in ‘Pop Culture’) that lets users create their own mixes from the album’s tracks. The vision has been followed and realised. Adventure is an adventure. It’s not one that DJs are likely to leap upon – though the likes of Gramatik and Oliver have already begun reworking with terrific aplomb – but to dismiss it due to its sheer listenability would be foolish. This is the kind of album adventure the electronic scene must commend.