“He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.”
—Close Encounters of the Third Kind
DON’T PANIC!... but the Pied Piper o’ Dark Disco known to humans as “Johnny Jewel” may not be of this world. Not because he’s a shape-shifting, mice-eating, Luciferian Lizard intent on controlling the galaxy, but because the music he produces sounds so gloriously of its own world—stardust-sprinkled space-pop that sounds like it’s touching from a distance, crystal visions beamed in from a utopian parallel universe. “In the City”, “Law of Life”, “Digital Versicolor”, “Under Your Spell”. Futuristic, ultra-vivid glam, meticulously crafted and lit deeply with either curious, childlike wonder or Le Petit Prince-esque existential sorrow. Fitting, then, that after six (six!?) years watching the skies for a sequel to the original After Dark compilation, its successor should suddenly appear “dynamite with a laserbeam” on the stroke of midnight. The strange ship’s cargo carries another bevy of doe-eyed waifs from that galaxy far, far away cryptically called “Italians Do It Better”. Mulder and Scully, the Mirrorball Mothership has landed…
Jewel’s flagship acts—Glass Candy and Chromatics—lead the invasion with four and three shots respectively. The Glass Candy quartet are uniformly fantabulous and offer a fiendish reminder why their long-awaited Body Work album is so droolingly anticipated. Their epic, transcendental 2011 single “Warm in the Winter” opens the AD2 capsule door and still sounds like the perfect soundtrack for the “Apocalypse Wow! Rave-Up at the End of Time”. Rising from the ashes of John Paul Young’s “Love is in the Air”, gonzo genius Ida No proceeds to spin feral, passionate poetry about being “Crazy like a monkey” over fountains of warm, analogue synths before demanding us to “SHOUT! YEAH YOU!”. When Ida finally decides “I love you! / We love you!” a billion hearts implode and the world is theirs for the taking. Later “Beautiful Object” offers a sassy middle finger to the Plastics over a cool glass of hop-skotch and lemonade, funk and sunshine soul whilst “The Possessed” is 100%-proof, vintage GC, slo-mo electro. A simmering black panther nightcrawler and a “fetch your freak flag” call-to-arms, “It’s all things to the menagerie / We die and wait for the burn.” The stupendously titled “Redheads Feel More Pain” closes the album with motorik glitch, thunderstorm ambience, and Ida’s haunted heart vocal slowly painting a dark skies sci-fi lullaby. When it folds, our mothership floats away into a hazy, cotton candy cloud of pinks and blues.
Of the three Chromatics’ joints, “Cherry” holds the sweetest bite. Finger-clickin’ good, brighter, and more giddily euphoric than anything on last year’s acclaimed Kill for Love album, it shimmies like a lost Martha Reeves classic rebuilt by the Jetsons. “I can’t see a light at the end for us anymore”, sighs Ruth Radelet softly, possibly behind oversized sunglasses. Heartache has rarely sounded so enviably elegant. By contrast there’s “Looking for Love”, a ‘Brand Jewel’ cinematic nightrider of ticking clocks, windscreen wiper beats, flickering neon and ocean rain sweepin’ the sidewalks. Hypnotic, narcotic noir, and classically Chromatics. The dreamy melt of “Camera” finally fuses celestial oriental melody, crystal bells, and a surrealist sad robot lament: “When you turn me off at night / Pretend that I’m lying in your arms.”
The rest of Battlestar ‘Italiano’ are well-represented, too. The sweetly swoonsome “Tears from Heaven” again shows how Jewel’s warmest, most wistfully romantic music is saved for Desire, the duo he formed with Megan Louise. “Look out that window / You could be dancing in the yard”, pines Meg with a nursery-rhyme melody reminiscent of Vampire Weekend’s “Giving Up the Gun”. It even has a talky bit en français, so it is, naturellement, ruddy amazing. There are two instrumentals too. With his “Soundtrack by SYMMETRY” wings sewn on, a flying solo Johnny gives us the widescreen Blade Runner glider “Heart of Darkness” while his IDIB co-pilot Mike Simonetti throws down the College-esque, pulsating midnight rush that is “The Magician”. Appaloosa bring two tracks, both Class A’s. The yearning “Intimate” parades a deluxe velvet revolution with Anne-Laure Keib’s exquisite ‘Paris-via-Berlin’ vocal bursting with evocative ‘fireworks in the dark’ imagery, “The sky and I / It is intimate.” The heavy-hearted goodbye kiss of “Fill the Blanks” is better still, Keib’s tone as forlorn as Nico’s, the lonely, desperate words at odds with the spinning, vibrant melody. “Bye bye ghosts I really loved to feel you / I want to see the world and keep on singing la la la.” A memory molotov both charming and affecting.
Aside from “Warm in the Winter”, Farah’s “Into Eternity” provides the album’s most dazzling, rollercoaster moment. The title track of art-pop poet Farah Holly’s near-mythical, unreleased debut album is typically both bizarro and brilliant. Listening to it is akin to driving into a dark tunnel at 100 mph with no headlights and no brakes. The ominous, industrial clatter-and-hiss simmers and broods, darker and more intense with every passing moment. Farah is cast as demon seed, a melancholy dolly Terminator or the Bride o’ Frankenstein 2525 speaking sporadically, spellbound, sedated: “I AM… MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE… I was born only half a body… I AM FORGIVEN!” It’s unsettling and stunning, a beautifully bleak freak. One suspects a whole album of this may, however, carry a Government warning: “Danger: Face Melter”.
Amazingly for a compilation, there’s no token crapola “My brother-in-law’s band” filler ruining AD2, but some tracks shine less brightly in the dark. The shrugging stomp of Mirage’s “Let’s Kiss” sounds like Daft Punk on Soul Train accompanied by a vocoderin’ hologram of Isaac Hayes. It’s good but not nine-minutes-of-your-life good. The summery ‘90s rave piano of Twisted Wire’s “Half Lives” is jolly enough with some unhinged “Release the bats!” caterwauling but feels resolutely human beside its extra-terrestrial counterparts. Despite these minor blips and the fact that being a ‘compilation’ it perhaps lacks the cohesive, emotional narrative arc of Kill for Love, AD2 is still an atomic display of IDIB’s firepower.
After Dark 2 carries some of the best music you’ll find on this or any other planet in the year 2013AD. You’ll dance. You’ll cry. You’ll dance and cry! Glamour, poetry, romance, imagination, kaleidoscopic colour, hypnotic beats, robot noises, crazy monkeys and fab talky bits in French. It’s a stellar example of how great music is blessed with a strange and mysterious magic borne seemingly from another world, another dimension, weaved by cosmic aliens with phasers set firmly to “STUN”. Earthlings, After Dark 2 is hot like Venus in July.