Canadian synth-wave duo Essaie Pas attempt to tease apart fantasy and reality on their excellent sophomore album, the noirish and seductive Demain est une autre nuit.
If Demain est une autre nuit ("Tomorrow Is Another Night"), then the music of Montreal's Essaie Pas is itself another night. That is, their David Lynchian synth-wave is another space that threatens to lower our inhibitions and goad the resurfacing of everything these inhibitions suppress. This includes our fantasies, dreams, fears, perversions, memories, ghosts, lusts and passions, all of which are rekindled by the hypnotic rhythms and dimmed electronics of the duo's second album. They're coaxed back up to the surface by Marie Davidson's sultry voice and Pierre Guerineau's seductive keys, both of which relax the barriers usually keeping them at bay. Yet if they do reemerge so easily into our waking lives, it's also because -- as the girl-boy team reveal via their penetrating noir pop -- these lives are already studded through with them.
As such, twilight stands as the time, not when we dredge them up from the depths for the first time in a while, but when we realize that they were there all along. In "Dépassée par le fantasme" ("Overtaken by Fantasy"), pulsing synths and an insistent drum machine introduce the hallucinatory Davidson, who allusively sings, "La réalité dépassée par le fantasme", suggesting perhaps not only that daytime reality has given way to an isolated period of nocturnal dreaming, but that reality itself is already constituted and overrun by fantasies, that it's already a kind of fantasy. Either way, the song's echoing production, sweeps of hypnagogic synths, and trippy, voice-shifting bridge strongly evoke a dreamscape in which one's own subconscious has become the dominant architect of one's experiences and perceptions, regardless of whether these happen at night or in the day.
In fact, dreams and illusions are such a recurring fixture in Demain est une autre nuit that it's hard to resist the conclusion that they represent the basic elements in Davidson's and Guerineau's lives. During the convulsive jittering of "Retox," Davidson sings of how she's been following the "cours" ("course" or "path") of an unnamed man, in particular "Son rêve, son sommeil" ("Its dream, its sleep"), and how "Il me marque, il me laisse/ Sur la porte, une blessure" (It marked me, it left me/ On the door, a wound.") It's with this mention of a formative "wound" that an accordion-esque, revelatory melody fills the air, creating the sonically hazy yet emotionally vivid impression that something fundamental in her life has either been exposed or established, and that she now can't help but see the concrete world through the interpretive lens of inherited fantasies.
She's been hooked on these fantasies by another, a reading bolstered by "Carcajou 3", a more direct, propulsive reimagining of a song on Essaie Pas' excellent debut, Nuit de noce ("Wedding Night"). It's amid the expansive, neon synths of its verse that Davidson admits, "Psychédélique / C'est facile pour moi / Carcajou / C'est facile pour toi / Nous sommes pleins, à deux" ("Psychedelic / It's easy for me / Wolverine / It's easy for you / We're complete, as two"), describing how she's prone to view reality via an altered state of mind, and how this proneness is reinforced and validated by her coupling with a similarly psychedelic, dream-infested individual.
But as its title implies ("Wolverine"), her tendency to recast reality in terms of her own delusions, visions and idealizations means that she's equally likely to recast herself similarly, transforming her own person and identity into yet another fantasy. That this is the case is proposed by "Le port de masque est de rigueur", which translates as "Mask-Wearing Is Mandatory" and therefore asserts that selves constructed around dreams, lies and deceptions aren't just a matter of personal inclination and choice. Put differently, they're obligatory, especially when you're trying to suppress your emotions like Guerineau and forget an ex-lover. Over a creeping, almost Knight Rider line, he coldly recounts how he's "Sans vouloir te trouver / Sans pouvoir t'échapper" ("Without wanting to find you / Without being able to escape you"), in "Cette ville devenue mon cauchemar" ("This city that's become my nightmare"). As the flickering instrumentation amasses momentum and urgency, he confesses that his ex-lover's "spectre me visite chaque nuit" ("ghost visits me every night"), that whenever the Sun sets and he removes his mask, his demons return to haunt him.
And on the subject of "flickering instrumentation", the twitching oscillations of a "Lights Out" and "Facing the Music" almost perfectly complement a scenario in which deluded people flit from one illusive mirage to the next, unable to maintain a single grip on reality for more than the length of a fractured eighth note. The discotheque flashing of "Facing the Music" almost acts as something like an aural screen, removing itself for a micro-instant and revealing a glimmer of the silent, scary world Essaie Pas have veiled themselves from, only to reappear almost immediately to cover this world in its sheen of wishful unreality. The duo struggle to ensure its constancy, but it always blanks out for a split-second, reminding them that reality itself is split, is always more than what they want it to be.
However, in addition to complementing their nightmarish themes of illusion and delusion, their palette on Demain est une autre nuit is often surprisingly danceable, as "Facing the Music" and "Lights Out" both attest (somewhat appropriately, given that they're on James Murphy's DFA label). It's also remarkably tuneful, with "Carcajou 3" and "Retox" in particular featuring motifs that are as beguiling as the masks that have made addicts of the band. In some ways, these qualities should come as no shock, given that Davidson and Guerineau are seasoned veterans in the world of electronic music. Yet what comes as quite the epiphany is closer "La chute" ("The Fall"), a thickly atmospheric horror ballad that alone justifies the David Lynch comparison beginning this review. In it, Guerineau recalls searching for a lover's face in a mirror, but instead he begins his 'fall.' What kind of fall this might be isn't explicitly disclosed, but whether it's a fall into nostalgic longing or a fall into unreality, there's little doubt that Essaie Pas have fallen into one of the strongest electronic albums of the year so far. It may be a little backward-looking, it may be too much of a prisoner of its own fantasies, but when all's said and done, these are fantasies we can all live with, and I imagine that most of us do.