L’Impératrice’s usual disco space odyssey is sent flying back to terrestrial dance floors by the ultimate heartbreak.
It’s going to take more than a global pandemic to keep L’Impératrice from ruling the dance floor. In a year when the disco group was supposed to be touring the world’s ballrooms and festival stages, 2020 had other plans in store. After adjusting their plans and embarking on a virtual “world tour” in July, L’Impératrice is back with the new album Tako Tsubo.
Tako Tsubo’s album art presents a new look for L’Impératrice with a somewhat menacing trio of anime-inspired figures adorned in choir robes and gold spiked collars, their probably icy stare masked by bold ski goggle sunglasses. Immediately this brings to mind another French disco group, the late great Daft Punk and the Interstella 5555, a fictional band created for the anime visual companion to 2001’s Discovery. However, this anime style is more than just an aesthetic choice for Tako Tsubo.
The title itself comes from a heart condition (in Japanese “octopus trap” 蛸 壺) caused by emotional stressors like literally a ”broken heart syndrome.” L’Impératrice’s new album also adds some new sounds to their repertoire. The group’s more grounded take on disco comes in the form of city pop, the Japanese genre mirroring the western funk and disco movements of the 1970s and 80s, bringing sounds of R&B, yacht rock and jazz into the fold.
Tako Tsubo’s premise is predicated on opener “Anomalie Bleue” and finding true love in an overwhelming hustle and bustle of drab white-collar life. Woozy synths are like a bleary-eyed commute, resentful of the dark, sunless day of cubicle confinement. Flore Benguigui’s vocals are exhausted whispers, weary of this life. Then a flash of hope, flares in the synths — that chance meeting, love at first sight — before diving into the first club groove of the album. Already in the opening minutes, L’Impératrice has you under their spell.
The high from love crashes down to street-level in ‘Hématome,’ as the singer comes face to face with the ugly behind a well-constructed digital façade. Tropical keys are harshly contrasted by brass-like synth, almost sounding like a cut from Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach. This song best encapsulates L’Impératrice’s sound, bridging the gap between vintage disco and dance music from the future. The anthemic ‘Submarine’ tries to shake off this notion of Instagram reality by simply not caring. “Drown me I won’t make a scene … Watching all your feelings die, I won’t cry,” Benguigui sings while struggling to actually mean it through the tears.
The ominous ‘Peur des filles’ flips the switch on heartbreak, opening with screams and strings in an homage to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ Instead of going for zombie mayhem, Benguigui is turned into a killer domestic housewife from outer space for the music video, for a cathartic satire turning women into the vengeful monsters misogynists would have you believe. With a memorable hook “Peur des filles” is a catchy earworm boring its way into your head like a sharp kitchen knife.
‘Fou’ and ‘Voodoo?’ stand as two of Tako Tsubo’s biggest dance numbers, their longer track time giving L’Impératrice the space to get into the free-flowing groove any good disco group needs. ‘Fou’ is the classic disco song, taking the group to fly among stars with twinkling synths and a bouncy bassline. ‘Voodoo?’ finds L’Impératrice ready to leave the party, but completely unable to stop themselves from getting funky, now victims of their own voodoo spell. “Can I resist this? / Am I off my head, what’s shaking my hips?” Benguigui sings in the chorus. The song is goofy, simple fun, with the dark implication of being unable to escape this part of life. The veil briefly lifts in the outro where incoherent chatter can be heard, perhaps a yearning for something more normal beyond the nightclub.
For those caught off guard by the Daft Punk’s surprise break up earlier this year, L’Impératrice fulfills the future of pop music as foretold by the duo’s Random Access Memories, offering up your new favorite jams to soothe any heartbreak.
Tako Tsubo is out March 26 and you can listen here.