❉ Ange Chan catches up with the Anglo-Franco duo and reviews their latest album.
“a terrific album with peaks and troughs, reflecting life before, during and after the lockdown period and the contrast between our lives now and then.”
Scenius aka Steve Whitfield (synths) and Fabrice Nau (vocals) are the perfect blend of Anglo-Franco entente cordiale, making music across the Channel for a few years now. They describe themselves as ‘lending the sounds of early electro-pop outfits and the spirit of post-Punk with a modern approach’ and you can certain hear that in their new release Life is a Thing, which follows their debut album Enough Fears, released three years ago.
The album opens with Life is a Thing Again, which has a catchy synth–led back beat. Following a vocal refrain of ‘all is as it should be….’, reflecting the constant monotony of the lockdown period, the song bursts into life during the chorus, mirroring society’s coming out of that period to live our lives once again but not quite the same as before. In my view, second number A Million to Go would have been a better opening track, as it draws you in with echoes of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and its catchy multi–layered sounds make it eminently listenable.
High Low starts with juxtapositions melodies which bring you into the song, and melodically reflect the contradictions of the song’s title. Meanwhile La Même Nuit explores a dark synth approach, which I found appealing. Vocally it’s presented in Fabrice’s native French, but it’s the musical elements – with interesting melody changes and echoes of Depeche Mode – that really grab me and as the song fades, I instantly hit repeat to listen to it again. It’s my favourite track on the album by far.
Next, we have Hindsight which has staccato distorted synths, again reflecting our lives post-lockdown when it hasn’t been quite the same as it was before that time. Musically it showcases the juxtaposition between the two, via thrumming synthesizer sounds. Conversely, lead single from the album Chinese Room and has a completely different vibe, being eminently danceable but with just a hint of a darkness lurking in the background.
Escalation returns to staccato synths sounds but with a somewhat sinister horror film edge, before the more substantial melody kicks in with lighter vocals which are perfectly balanced in syncopation with the music. The pace is maintained with Moon Fall which has a frantic feel with a sense of urgency about it, as the layers of sound move from chord to chord in a darker way, giving texture and interest to the track.
Rise Above is slower in pace and has a Numan-esque sensibility in its musical tone and lyrics, which discuss the hopelessness of the lack of ‘things to cling to’. It’s reflective of a true dystopian track conveying the times we are currently living in.
The final track Hot Dust is again darker in nature and continues where Hi Low left off with the apparent Numan influence. The song intro is quite lengthy and intriguing before the reflective vocals come in to complement the heavily multi-layered synths, which are the stars of the show on this track.
All in all, it’s a terrific album with peaks and troughs, reflecting life before, during and after the lockdown period and the contrast between our lives now and then. I’d love to see some of the tracks performed live which would no doubt showcase them in their best, glorious setting.
I caught up with Steve and Fabrice to ask them a few questions…
Scenius Talks: The Interview
What inspired you to write this album?
Steve: I just switch my stuff on and see what comes out. I do it for the love of creating music, for living through the moment when a new track comes together, and it gets the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.
Fab: As for me, the first inspiration obviously comes from the great music Steve sends me. When the music is inspiring the vocal melodies tend to come quite easily. And usually, they come along with a few bits of ‘spontaneous lyrics’ that inspire me to write the rest. And as for the album, well actually we’ve just kept on writing songs. It’s only when we had a dozen done that, we’ve thought we should try to see if we could put them together into an album. Which is yet another exciting stage in the creation process. Because now you have to see your songs from a different angle. It’s not anymore about how good the song is in itself it’s about how it sounds if played after the song before. So, you only need to find a good starting point. This time we knew Life Is a Thing Again had to be the opening track. In the end a couple songs didn’t make it in the final track list.
How do you think this album compares to your first album and which do you prefer?
Steve: I see it a sister album to the first one, we have moved on and changed but it fits very well alongside the first album (Enough Fears). I feel there’ll be a bigger change on the third album, which we’ve started writing already.
Fab: There’s more diversity on this album. Also, the songs are more straightforward and the arrangement often more minimalist. I tend to prefer this album for these reasons.
Are there any live shows planned on the back of the album?
Steve: Yes, hopefully, but it’s a little more complicated as Fabrice and I live in different countries.
Fab: So we’ve got to group gigs together which does make things trickier than if we could play the odd gig. But we will definitely play more gigs than we did for the first album. As a reminder, our debut album was all made remotely, by sending files to each other. So, when it got released, we didn’t know how we’d play the songs live. This time we know how, and we’ve already actually played the new songs together.
Which are your personal favourite tracks on the album?
Steve: Today, Life Is a Thing Again and Hindsight but tomorrow I’ll probably change my mind!
Fab: Same for me, plus La Même Nuit.
Which synth do you use to achieve your unique sound (particularly on Hot Dust and Hi Low)?
Steve: On those 2 particular songs there’s a lot of ARP Odyssey used, especially on High Low which is almost all Odyssey. Alongside that synth, I also have a variety of old analogues that get used. Occasionally I do also use some digital synths, virtual synths and samplers, but most of it is analogue. An unlikely keyboard is an old Casiotone 202 which you can hear at the start of A Million to Go and Escalation. I’ve found that every keyboard and synth, no matter how rubbish it is, has a least one good sound in it. None of my synths have factory pre–sets, except the Casiotone, so I have to create my own sounds from scratch. I think this really helped create our sound.
Are any remixes of your tracks planned? If so who would you like to undertake this task?
Steve: I’d love LCD Soundsystem/James Murphy or Robert Smith to do one!
Who do you consider to be your peers in the music industry?
Fab: Any band that do their own thing and don’t think they’re special because they’re in a band.
Who is your dream producer?
Steve: Mmm, that might be difficult. Ha ha! As I am a producer, I might be hard to work with! Probably Flood, he always seems to get the best out of bands and doesn’t just repeat the same sound with every project. He’s done some amazing records for the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, PJ Harvey, Goldfrapp, Depeche Mode, and so many others. He also likes and understands old synths. Also Nigel Godrich (Radiohead/Beck/Air).
Who has taken the best photograph of you?
Fab: We really love our friend Kieron Brennan’s shot of us.
Do you have a guilty pleasure, musically?
Steve: As well as loving cooler things like Joy Division, and LCD Soundsystem, I’ve always liked good pop music. So things like Hey Ya by Outkast, Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, and Can’t Get You Out Of My Head by Kylie stand out. Really there’s just good music and bad music, I’m not too hung up on genres.
Fab: I never feel guilty about the music I listen to and I’m not sure why anyone should. Well, I mean I would be embarrassed if I enjoyed, like, Nazi anthems I guess.
Thanks for talking to me guys, and the best of luck with the album release.
❉ A lifelong lover of music and prominent contributor for We Are Cult, Ange Chan is a Freelance Writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry.
Header image: Scenius. Photo © Kieron Brennan