Review: Woodkid – The Golden Age

It‘s time for some smart guest authors! That‘s why I asked music critic and blogger buddy Kristoffer to join wolf auf tausend plateaus for a review of Woodkid‘s epic pop inferno: The Golden Age.

I’ve never really „got“ music videos. Neither did I understand back in the – allegedly – good old days of music television why a piece of music needs visualisation nor does it make sense to me now. I’m aware, however, that it’s just me. Everyone else loves music videos. Music itself reacts: „Cinematic“ has become a buzzword both musicians and music journalists use to describe sounds. It makes perfect sense: The aesthetics of the social web, no, practically everything  revolves around the visual. Even the music. We’re actually dancing to architecture  (or better: design) these days. „The golden age is over“, at least for music as an autonomous field of art. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not whining.  

In fact, I’m slowly adjusting. With a little help from my friends, of course. Woodkid’s debut album certainly didn’t overwhelm me. But it made things clearer for me. I’ve found something in this music, er, I mean, 21st century style Gesamtkunstwerk that I find very intriguing, that makes me come back to it over and over. Yoann Lemoine started out as a director of music videos and only later decided to give music a shot. His first single, Iron, caught everyone’s attention when it was released in 2011. Why? Because of its video, d’uh!

Slo-Mo fighting scenes in black and white, obscure symbolism and lots of naked flesh – an eye catcher, for sure. And interestingly, I can’t even argue against its appeal. It doesn’t take anything away from the music; the visual don’t suffocate the sonic aspects. In fact, music and visual art are inseparable in Lemoine’s work, especially Iron. Taking its cues from film scores and overdramatic pop music, nothing else would make sense.


But now, there’s his debut album, The Golden Age, clocking in at almost 50 minutes. Facing the inevitable question: Can those 14 songs keep up with the hype? The answer is as simple as it is complex. Yes, they can. But they can’t, really. And that’s what makes them so interesting.
Lemoine constantly triggers our imagination and visual memory, evoking flashbacks wherever his pompous, over-dramatic music takes us, evoking flashbacks of Orff’s Carmina Burana, the Imperial March or the background music of the RPGs that we’ve played. „Hey, that string section totally reminds me of that one time slaying mutant monsters in a dark dungeon! I made out with the princess after that. Totally epic!“ 

Of course, epic is the keyword here: Everything about Woodkid’s music is a sort of epic, blown out of proportion, cinematic (there, I’ve said it) bombast. But unlike the film scores and video game music it repeatedly quotates, it doesn’t serve the purpose of accompanying and amplifying the visual rather than evoking it freely. The music video of Iron is, in a way, already prescribed in the music itself. I know, I know: That all sounds pretty pretentious. Give it a listen and you will see what I’m talking about.

That doesn’t entirely make up for the fact that Lemoine is a decent songwriter at best. He’s not even a good singer. And don’t get me started on that weird bastard Mockney/French accent. But he sure makes the best out of it, opting for an impressive sound design and taking the role of the aloof crooner (much like Lana Del Rey, for whom he has directed the video for the song Born To Die). There’s not much emotion in Lemoine’s vocals until the record is almost over and he comes out of his shell. He keeps his distance because he knows that it works.

 While the music not-so-subtly dictates you what to see, his voice will leave enough room for interpretation, creating an intriguing tension. „The Golden Age“ is a very interesting, catchy and lovely, well, 21st century style Gesamtkunstwerk. It doesn’t need a visual companion, because the visual is already embedded in it. I still might not “get” music videos, but I definitely get that – and can fully embrace it.

Wookid: The Golden Age (Green United Music) came out in March 2013.

Kristoffer Cornils has written about music, literature and related topics for several magazines. He runs a blog where he collects his (witty, bitchy, geeky) articles and writing on music and (pop-)culture. Follow him on Facebook!

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