[7 May 2014]
Retro-gazing electronic pop of the broad-stroked, emotive variety, the debut LP of Berlin-based, Dutch musician Thomas Azier meditates upon themes of loneliness, “metamorphosis”, disconnect and the kind of isolation that individuals can feel even when they live in a bustling city surrounded by so much humanity. Many of the songs on Hylas wouldn’t seem out of place on the soundtrack to an atmospheric ‘80s sci-fi or fantasy flick, but there’s nothing particularly antiquated about Azier’s vision. Reflecting both the German electro scene and the “Dutch gabber and hardcore scene”, with a bit of warm, French dramaticism thrown into the mix to offset the coldness of the synths, this is one of the most confident debuts by a male electronic artist in ages.
It features a handful of the tracks gathered from his two previous EPs, but the new material is equally as muscular. “Verwandlung” (“Transformation”) sinks its vampiric teeth deep into the skin and slowly works its foreboding, romantic charms. Anxious arpeggiated synths and Azier’s spine-tingling vocal turn on “Red Eyes” immediately make it a forerunner for best track on the album. The shimmering “Hylas” bursts with confident swagger and the gritty, industrial, dance floor darkness of “Ghostcity” mesmerizes as much as it seduces the body into moving. “How to Disappear” sounds like a collaboration between HURTS and M83, while the epic “Yearn Yearn” boasts one of the album’s most memorable, wide-screen choruses, and the slow-building simmer of album closer “Sirens of the Citylight” boils over into a rapturous conclusion.
Twenty-five-year-old Azier, whose voice often recalls everyone from Jon Anderson to Antony, revels in extremes both sonically and lyrically, like a manic depressive flitting between “hope and despair”. He paints multi-hued tales of disillusionment and optimism, while struggling with personal desires to satiate his appetite for both lust and companionship. Beginning the project when he was only 19 years old, Hylas took a lengthy five years to refine, but it seems the long gestation process might just have been exactly what Azier needed to mature as both a musician and an artist. It will be interesting to observe what he concocts next.