Agoria: Impermanence

Agoria featuring Kid A: Heart Beating (remixes)

Sebastien Devaud's third Agoria solo album, Impermanence, promises much, from its beautiful cover photograph to a guest list that includes vocal contributions from Seth Troxler, Carl Craig, and Kid A. But it turns out to be a frustrating release from the InFiné head (he co-founded the label in 2006 with Alexandre Cazac and Yannick Matray), as for every two steps it takes forward, it takes one back. Devaud deserves praise on grounds of ambition, but ambition is one thing and results another. Let's take the album track by track, and we'll see exactly how and why it all plays out as it does.

“Kiss My Soul” proves to be an arresting opener in that its vocal-and-piano emphasis thwarts the typical expectations that come with any electronic dance music release. After starting with a repeating three-note piano motif, the song branches out with the addition of Kid A (twenty-year-old Anni T, who hails from Virginia, USA), whose vocal gives the song all kinds of personality, and some well-placed string accompaniment and percussion accents. The album's biggest miscue, “Souless Dreamer,” comes next, however, and unfortunately the strong impression left by the opener is washed away the moment the inane New Age sophistries of Troxler's silly voiceover appear (sample: “For in this moment, live this moment, just be who you are / Your best self, your most profound self…”). The lyrics are so over-the-top, one wonders if perhaps the whole thing might be a put-on, but even if it is a joke, the track suffers either way. It's a shame because the vocal ruins what would be an otherwise decent exercise in deep dub-house.

An unequivocal success is “Panta Rei,” which offers the best seven minutes of rave-ready trance-techno one might hope to hear, and the cut's feverish, hard-grooving churn can be recommended without reservation (interestingly, its piano emphasis makes it the album track that comes closest to evoking another recent InFiné full-length, Francesco Tristano's Idiosynkrasia—a good thing, given how uniformly strong a collection it is). “Simon” follows, a one-minute textural exporation of little consequence that contributes little to the project. Carl Craig's contribution to “Speechless” would have been best left out altogether, unless your idea of a good time is having some lizard-tongued Lothario trying to win you over with cringeworthy come-ons like “I'm going to take you back to my room, and I'm gonna drink whiskey out of your belly button… and when I kiss you I'm gonna take the tip of my tongue and tickle your tonsils.” Regardless of the intended effect, what results is more sleazy than seductive, and the voiceover ends up spoiling what otherwise would have been a snappy, Detroit-styled banger.

Returning us to the satisfying climes of “Panta Rei,” “Grande Torino” offers eight minutes of Latin-inflected house swing enhanced by string overlays. In her second appearance, Kid A over-enunciates to distraction on “Heart Beating” (especially noticeable during the choruses), with Agoria again deemphasizing a dance-based attack for a dramatic, strings-drenched and percussion-heavy mood piece. So-called “whispers” by Scalde don't do much to elevate the atmospheric dance jam “Little Shaman,” which seems to lack the kind of clear-headed purpose that lifts “Panta Rei” and “Grande Torino” into the upper tier. “Under the River” brings the album's momentum to a three-minute halt for a neo-noir excursion into the city's dark side with plaintive, jazz-tinged trumpet playing as tour guide. “Libellules” (which first appeared as one twelve-inch side of Agoria's 2009 debut release on InFiné) closes the album with a too-sleepy, nine-minute instrumental that takes too long to get into gear and by the time it does you've pretty much lost interest.

So add it up and what've we got? Two passable vocal tracks (Kid A's), two rendered indigestible by Troxler and Craig, and two short instrumental settings of little note, all of them offset by a smattering of deep club cuts that succeed without qualification. The album's best tracks suggest that had Devaud played to his strengths—focusing more on intense dance tracks like “Panta Rei” and “Grande Torino” and less on self-indulgent vocal-based experiments that show range—Impermanence would have been as satisfying a listen as Idiosynkrasia.

As is often the case with InFiné, the album release is followed by an EP that offers remixers' interpretations of a single track, and in this case “Heart Beating” receives makeovers from John Roberts, Sylvain Chauveau, Argy, and InFiné's own Fraction. A radio edit of the album version comes first, after which Dial artist Roberts immediately improves upon it by extracting a loop of the vocal and strings from the original and alchemizing it into a mechanized head-spinner that leaves one dizzied in the best way possible. Fraction's treatment dresses the track up into a goth-styled, bass-burning banger of the kind one would more associated with Shitkatapult than InFiné; regardless, the snarling treatment serves the track well and elevates it a notch or two above the original by making it seem overly precious and ponderous by comparison. Poker Flat's Argy (Greece native Argy Theofillis) continues the transformation by remodeling “Heart Beating” as a lethal, seven-minute house stomper with razor-sharp hi-hats and a charging groove giving the fabulous reading extra oomph. Diametrically opposed to is an orchestral treatment by Chauveau that banishes any trace of club character by wrapping the vocal in an ocean of strings. Here's an EP that succeeds in every way by presenting treatments that are both sufficiently different from one another but that also satisfy when broached on individual terms.

April 2011