Madeon has the ear for a strong hook and a natural knack for dance production, but by failing to provide enough distinction to his tracks on an individual basis, his Tumblr-friendly brand of EDM turns him into a bit of a one-trick pony.
It started with 39 songs.
Back in 2011, young Hugo Pierre Leclercq uploaded a video called "Pop Culture" up on the Tubes of You under his stage name Madeon. Mixing some of his favorite songs together live on his Launchpad (including Kylie Minogue's "Wow", Daft Punk's "Around the World", Madonna's "Hung Up"), many people were impressed not because of the samples he used as much as the sheer style of it all, the clips all being sorted, triggered, and fired off in a dynamic, compelling fashion. Leclercq loves his pop music, but loves reconfiguring it into something much more immediate and joyful even more, stylizing his open-air choruses in a way that his heroes Daft Punk would be proud of.
Following his success of solo single "The City" (as well as production gigs for the like of Lady Gaga and the single best justification for Yelle's existence), it wouldn't be long before Madeon's dance parties would take a more definitive form, and finally, four years after "Pop Culture" put him on the map, we are treated to Adventure, the first full-length album by someone who could probably play the entire Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack from memory.
Featuring vocal guest spots from Passion Pit, Dan Smith of Bastille, and Mark "Foster The People", Madeon wants to basically hold the indie dance party of the year on Adventure, and he somewhat succeeds. His intro track "Isometric" is a perfect dramatic stage-setter, segueing fluidly into the smashing single "You're On", which uses a sliced vocal sample to dynamic effect, Madeon never forgetting to balance things out with the occasional well-timed piano comedown. Save for the weary "Innocence", there is nary a ballad in sight, because over the course of Adventure's 48 minutes, the tempos are up, the synths are colorful, and the optimism is unrelenting ...
... which is also Adventure's biggest problem.
Although the Passion Pit feature "Pay No Mind" is a delectable pop-guitar confection and the scorching "Imperium" struts around like a badass Sega Genesis end-level, a great majority of Adventure's tracks all use the exact same sonic palette: standard 4/4 EDM drum stylings, Bastille-indebted vocal cascades, reverb-heavy club synths that never relent, etc. Over the past few years, Madeon has developed a very distinctive signature sound, but it's still ironic that for an album called Adventure he rarely deviates from that template, the digital flute intro to "Beings" eventually giving way to yet another round of towering synths just like all his songs do.
Adventure never suffers from any truly "bad" moments but its strict adherence to formula causes his creations to blur together, making straight-through runs of the album remarkably indistinct, even if individual numbers, when removed from the context of the album, absolutely shine. "Pixel Empire". for example, builds off a simple key pattern to become a strong synth instrumental that eventually incorporates canyon-echo guitars and a nice moody breakdown that would make M83 proud; it's a great floor-filler, but following the somewhat quieter "Innocence" and leading into the album closer "Home", both of which use the same shiny textures and glossy production tricks, "Pixel Empire" feels more derivative than it actually is.
Thus, Adventure makes for a difficult debut album: it's obvious that Madeon has the ear for a strong hook and a natural knack for dance production, but by failing to provide enough distinction to his tracks on an individual basis, his Tumblr-friendly brand of EDM turns him into a bit of a one-trick pony (albeit a pony that knows how to strut). Adventure shows a lot of promise and will please a lot of fans, but as of now, that promise has yet to be truly fulfilled. Keep at it, and a few albums in, the boy is gonna have 39 great songs of his own to mix.
Splash image: press photo by chivteam