The name of Belgian singer Charlotte Adigéry has been steadily increasing in hype volume since 2016, and her most fruitful collaborations have been with fellow Belgique, producer Bolis Pupul. His throwback electro-pop has a distinctly sleek, European sense of irony and placement, which Adigéry sees as a green light to indulge her most gleefully esoteric proclivities. The duo, brought together by Belgian iconoclasts Soulwax, complement each other so well at this point that it almost seems effortless, which of course adds to the allure. The latest offering from the two mavericks is their new album, Topical Dancer, which finds two artists with their sound, style and message honed to a fine point which has tendencies to wildly veer in random directions sporadically. The name is also pretty hilarious while projecting wokeness, so double points.
Charlotte Adigéry’s lyrics form a sizeable chunk of the appeal of Topical Dancer, and she has carved out quite a nice little niche for herself in this regard. Initially they seem like bizarre, unrelated non sequiturs, but as her mischievous sense of humour reveals itself to a fuller extent, suddenly the Magic Eye picture begins to take shape. Charlotte tackles pervasive social issues like sexism and racism in a droll, sarcastic way which belies their impact until the hammer blow of her insight hits 20 minutes later, at which point a repeat listen is required. Also required is a loose understanding of surrealism and free association.
On opener “Esperanto”, Bolis Pupul uses a technique which is peppered throughout Topical Dancer, using Adigéry’s voice as part of the instrumental, surrounding it with clinical 808s and bass drops which blow out the bottom end. Adigéry begins by asking difficult questions of the listener concerning their political persuasions and ulterior motives, putting them on their toes straight from the start line. “Are you polite or political?/Are you correct or cynical?/Are you as open-minded behind closed doors?/Would you join forces in this holy war?”
Charlotte Adigéry’s conversational piece at the end of the track is particularly inspired, in which she lists off casually prejudiced, often repeated sentiments and then suggests ideal replacements, all of which are certified zingers. Among the crackling one-liners, the line “Don’t say ‘I would like a black Americano,’ say ‘I’ll have an African American please’” stands out as one of the zippiest, hyper-aware and dripping in delicious irony.
“Blenda” shifts the tone into electro-house territory, and Bolis Pupul’s acid squelch does numbers over a driving 4×4 kick attack, culminating in what sounds like an early summer soundtrack staple. Adigéry’s vocals fit this mould snugly, bubbling with abandon, creating a paradox with the gravity of the subject matter. In this track, Adigéry recounts ignorant, racist tropes repeated to her and freely, identically, to countless others the world over. Who knew discrimination could be so indiscriminate? Charlotte Adigéry knew, and she relays the message in her own distinctive fashion, at one point asking Siri where she truly belongs, receiving radio silence in return.
“It Hit Me” takes a sharp left into German industrial, ignoring all warning signs and emerging with a disarmingly robotic examination of sexual exploitation and objectification. Bolis makes a vocal appearance here, pitching his voice all over the scale, adding further disorientation to an unsettling account of obsession. “Ceci N’Est Pas un Cliché” is the album’s most obvious commercial hit, which is a quip unto itself, the track being a deliberately heavy-handed parody of commercial hits as a concept. Charlotte Adigéry has apparently researched her work on this song by disappearing down a YouTube rabbit hole of hackneyed schmaltz and emerging with a Dadaist collage of terrible lines, brilliant in their nonsense and devastating in their accuracy. Any song that starts with “I was walking down the street, when I woke up early this morning” knows precisely what it’s doing. You can practically hear the raised eyebrows and knowing smiles between Adigéry and Bolis on the demo recordings.
“Mantra” is one of Topical Dancer’s highlights, being a self-care anthem of sorts, somehow avoiding the most played out platitudes associated with this notion and instead concentrating on very relatable life-based anxieties. The chorus is amongst the most uplifting moments of 2022 so far, soaring as a moment of true sincerity in a crowd of implications and intrigue. After a brief detour on “HAHA”, in which Adigéry’s various laughs are chopped up and spluttered to vaguely sinister effect over a driving synth drenched in the neon of 24-hour waffle stands, Topical Dancer is closed out by “Thank You”, which curves initial expectations much like the rest of the album. Both Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul achieve optimal sardonicism on this track, the jaunty bassline bouncing with self-referential funk while Adigéry thanks everyone who tries to tell her how to look or sound or tries to tie her up in money and industry politics, her voice dripping with saccharine sarcasm and caustic ridicule. In an ideal world, the suits would cut the cheques in grateful silence, allowing musicians such as these two to indulge their most high-concept visions without interruption.
Topical Dancer is a truly unique prospect, further refining the elements which make this partnership gel and excel. Charlotte Adigéry’s understandably jaded worldview is fleshed out with such humanity and humour it’s hard not to share it. The humour in particular is funny on a comedian-doing-music level rather than a musician-doing-comedy level. As with much great surrealist art, peel back the absurdist veneer and you will find a carefully structured, scathing satire of society and its whims. The albums chief intentions: to make the listener dance, think, laugh, rage, act and love, are all checked off with a dramatic flourish, leaving an eerie void behind when the ride is over. One more play wouldn’t hurt, that snarky electro-funk is a hell of a gateway drug. Begin a fresh habit by buying Topical Dancer here.