Dominique Leone - "Nous Tombons Dans Elle" (Dominique Leone)
Although Dominique Leone is best known for his music criticism, this excellent self-titled debut LP promises to establish him as an equally gifted musician. The transition from critic to art-maker is as rare in music as it is in the plastic arts – film may be the exception because of its relatively young age. And while the French new wave has little to do with this music, there’s something to be said here about the role the Carnets du cinema played, allowing aspiring directors to work out ideas on paper before approaching the medium. I like Leone’s writing a lot because it’s equally intelligent and accessible. Dominique Leone, the album, coordinates these same qualities, and, also like his writing, has little truck with elitism or the esoteric. There’s an unspoken prejudice against people with a classical background playing indie, and Leone does more than hint at his musical education here, but it’s always an inclusive move and it basically always sounds good. I’m happy that music like this is being made. More than a promising debut, Dominique Leone is one of the best releases of the year, combining a producerly sense of dynamics and range that’s equally dub-, classical-, and disco-influenced, with choruses and melodies that seize your attention and never really let go.
Dominique Leone is released on Lindstrøm’s Strømland label. That Oslo-based producer’s space-disco is one of the sounds at work here, but the most obvious touchstone is English Settlement-era XTC. One of the things Leone wrote in his recent Listed submission for this site – about Pattern Is Movement’s music reminding him of the UK group’s “stubbornly original song structures and chord progressions” – applies equally well to the 11 tracks presented here. Leone has a knack for writing these pretty, soaring, multi-tracked vocal melodies that give the impression of eternity. In the case of the 13-minute “The Return,” that feeling of inexhaustibility comes from repetition (the chorus consists of the words “High up on top / How do you feel?” and “ba ba ba”), as well as the ambitious chord structure it’s built on. Like some of the other tracks on the album (opener “Kaine” and “Claire”), noisy parts interrupt the song’s prettiness. There’s a special pared-down, purposeful quality to the noise, which is built around piercing or squelchy synth sounds, compressed drums, and static – sort of like a pocket Boredoms. I’m still unsure what the exact purpose of the noise is, and it’s likely Leone thinks it doesn’t need one, but it comes off like a combination palate-cleanser and self-puncturing gesture that keeps Leone from exceeding his reach.
“Nous Tombons Dans Elle” is one of the best songs of 2008, and every surface arrives packed with an incredible amount of detail. At five minutes, it seems hyper-compressed – it could easily go on with the same ideas for twice its length and not wear out its welcome. The keyboard bridge that joins the song’s first and second halves is reminiscent of the Supertramp-via-Daft Punk one in “Digital Love,” and what it leads to is equally exciting – playground-hop with more in common with Ricardo Villalobos than The Go! Team.
Few things on the album seem earthly, and this album’s accessibility and joy are a measure of Leone’s accomplishment. Even the album’s grittiest parts (think the supercompressed drums on “Goodbye”) come off as weightless. If Leone’s not in the atmosphere with his buoyant vocals or frothy synths, he’s underwater with gently roiling guitar and Mexican radio samples. Dominique Leone is a “blue” album in this sense – if it never comes down to earth, it’s not condescension, it’s just simple transcendence: Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue as much as XTC’s Skylarking. This is maybe deceptive, because Leone’s music is wholly his own, a sui generis synthesis that pays its dues at it surpasses its precedents. It makes me wish that other indie musicians (the terminology isn’t precise, but it’s the closest I can get to who’ll be listening to the album) would follow his lead. Not in a literal sense, but in the sense of listening to everything – say, Xenakis and Larry Levan and Daft Punk – and not really bothering to distinguish them, either through irony or name-dropping. There’s a lot to be stoked on here.