The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill painted a music scene reflective of urban culture on the brink of a new millennium; eleven years later we – as a culture and creative class – have evolved and devolved from that reality. We have since found our souls in the synthetic, and were given our new sonic aesthetic with an anthemic 2009 soundtrack of our virtual reality.
Enter La Roux. La Roux is music that reaches beyond sound, into the mood and mindset of an apathetically passionate generation. Literally, “La Roux” is founded upon adamant ambiguity, fusing the masculine “Le Roux” and the feminine “La Rousse” to mean “The Red-Headed One.” That “One” would be none other than the Annie Lennox-esque frontwoman Elly Jackson. Jackson’s pale features beneath a fiery red coif depict brilliantly the sonic aesthetic of a colourless coloured culture.
The album opens with “In for the Kill,” an anthemic track reflecting the era in script, sound, and sentiment. Beneath: the cold synth, drum machine loops, and systematic keyboarding; above: Jackson’s piercing tone crooning coldly “I’m going in for the kill, I’m doing it for a thrill; oh, I’m hoping you’ll understand, and not let go of my hand.” On one hand the declarative “going in for the kill,” on the other: the obscure motive “doing it for the thrill.” We live fast, we die young – for no other reason than we can, and we have no sense of any other way. Yet even with that definition, our miserable hipster hearts still need company of another hand. The definition and the uncertainty, the independence and the codependence, La Roux lives in the ambiguous and juxtaposed.
The second track, “Tigerlily,” finds Jackson’s vocals playing off themselves – aggressive tones throughout the verses: “They can sell it all they want, but you cannot agree; I don’t like the taste of their morality. You’ll find your bread and your butter where you fake it, and put your face in the gutter of a snake pit,” interspersed with the lighter demeanor through the chorus: “And in the crush of the dark, I’ll be your light in the mist; I can see you burning with desire for a kiss – Psychobabble all upon your lips.” The underlying drum n bass beat is a heavy parallel to the quick staccato snares and splashes of synth. “Tigerlily” is the dictating force in the album’s direction; it is hard and soft, aggressive and passive. As Jackson coldly states “our communication is telepathy,” it is as much a reflection of the artist as it is their audience. In an age where banter is everywhere, the only way to truly communicate, express, and connect is perhaps without any words at all.
La Roux is a love album at its core. It draws on the truest, sincerest emotion from the vantage of products of an electronic world. What makes this album so beautiful, so true, and genuine is its stark snapshot of our reality – our virtual reality. La Roux serenades synthetically through “Colourless Colour,” a track as indicative of star-crossed lovers as it is a cultural portraiture. The listener is immersed in arcade sounds, as Jackson croons of failed love games, “we wanted to play but we had nothing left to play for… colourless colour, once in fashion soon to be scene.” Culture is a la mode, culture is of the fashion: and love is the new denim – rock and republic rhythmically reunited.
La Roux is a masterpiece of vortex pop music. The album dwells in the artistry of juxtaposition. Even with the synthesizers on overhaul, there is no overbearing barrage of artificiality distorting the listening experience. The vocals, though airy and elevated at times, exude a sense of passionate apathy, so indicative of any given millennial. La Roux eases the listener in with familiar eighties and early nineties club beats, but never loses focus on their place as artists to create something authentic and uniquely theirs.
The group’s signature sound can only be described as Synthetic Soul; because for all of the shallow production layers, and beneath Jackson’s tinny tonality, is sheer cold soul. She opens each track delicate, but deliberate, almost reading from a script the story of her life. The synthesized beats repeat systematically and lull the listener into a state of pseudo-hypnosis. The key is that each track is in a constant state of ascension. The vocals and beats ride in rhythmic tandem. La Roux’s production is like a bakery with the tracks as sonic treats. The songs are production pastries, steadily adding one deliciously thin digital layer of sound over the next. Jackson’s vocals build throughout each track as well. While she starts monotone, she transitions into a more soulful place, often crooning the final bridges with her staple soprano improv riffs. Electronic music is soulless no more.
Merged dichotomies find themselves nestled in La Roux’s prose as much as it does the production, and the style of the surface is equally balanced by the substance within the social vantage. “I’m walking on a broken roof, while I’m looking at the sky,” is “I’m Not Your Toy”’s justified juxtaposition of a culture caught between an ingrained sense of perpetual progress, and lack of concern or comprehension of the past. While those who forget history are doomed to forget it, we’re the new-new and we have Kevlar, this time we’ll be bulletproof, “Burning bridges shore to shore, I’ll break away from something more; I’m not to not to love until it’s cheap.” Our attention spans only go so far – namely, ten years or so – and our past has been marred by eight years of wizards behind curtains we never knew existed. Our culture is doused in uncertainty and skepticism – towards and from “the past.” So, we burn bridges to said past, we look ahead and focus on the only thing we know to be true – or so we’re told: love. Capitalism is the greatest love story, and as such love is the new currency – true love is loving until it’s cheap.
La Roux is a ride; it is a night out on the hills or any hometown. It begins in the familiar pre-game preparation place, then moves you to the club/lounge/bar, and by the third quarter of the collection La Roux drops off into a quieter place – like a walk of shame before any shameful act has occurred. All of this is to say that La Roux is exactly what Jackson says it is. It dwells in the now, that colourless colour of the “early nineties décor, it was a day for” that was “once in fashion and soon to be rediscovered” – in the immediate history of Generation ADHD. Yet and still La Roux gets that the “now” is eternally becoming “then” so they might as well make the most of here and flesh out the fleeting.
At the end of the day, great pop captures and encapsulates the culture as it is at its core; it provides the most authentic reflection of wherever it is. In a modern world of artificiality, La Roux somehow gives human depth to a most vapid of cultural eras: “My reflections are protection, they will keep me from destruction; my directions are distractions, when you’re ready, come into the light.” Music is a drug, it is something used to alter a current state of being; just because the world is burning around us, doesn’t mean we have to be cynical. In a society that equates sanity with sterility, it is a diamond in the rough that manages to capture the style and substance beneath the sound mind: enter La Roux – unforgettable.