Madeon has clearly played a ton of video games. His debut album, Adventure, is absolutely filled to the brim with 8-bit style synths. If you’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game in particular, you should find a lot of sonic parallels between this album and Nobuo Uematsu’s masterful scores for the first couple of games in the series. Madeon has always been absolutely on point with his drum production, but the way he’s started to think about the other elements in his tracks show that he’s matured immensely from his days as an Ableton playing, viral YouTube sensation.
This album is also full of warm, thickly layered vocals. ‘La Lune’ is definitely where Madeon’s use of these layered vocals shines, but then, would you expect anything less from the collaboration with Bastille’s songwriter Dan Smith? The way they work together on this track is like bears and hammocks: two things that you wouldn’t immediately associate with one another, but once you’ve been exposed to the combination, you immediately want more. The way the vocal harmonies and chiptune synths flow into one another create a gorgeously soft finish. However, It’s when ‘Imperium’ kicks in that I realise what I’ve been missing on this album.
Up to this point, it’s been beautiful arrangements of 8-bit and pad synths with lush vocals and the occasional live instrument. However, when Imperium unleashes those grungy, 2010 era, French electro sounds that were in so much of Madeon’s early YouTube work, suddenly it clicks. ‘Imperium’ is driving and powerful with that gritty edge that, immediately upon hearing, I feel a few of the earlier tracks could have used. I understand Madeon is trying to go in a new direction. He hasn’t ever really subscribed to the electro scene as heavily as his countrymen. He has, up until this album, always had that slight hint of grit. I feel like if he’d kept that little bit of grit in the other tracks the rest of the album would feel a lot fuller and more powerful. As it stands, there’s a lot of moments where it feels a bit light. That lightness may, however, be a good thing.
Tracks like ‘Nonsense’, the collaboration with Foster the People’s member Mark Foster, would be a straight up indie rock track if it was played by a four piece band and not Madeon’s 8-bit synths. A lot of the album shares this feeling, albeit with a much funkier twist. Madeon has acknowledged that not everyone is into that gritty electro sounds and is taking a few pages out of other genre’s handbooks to reach the widest audience possible. ‘Pixel Empire’ and ‘Home’ are the real powerful, stand out tracks. The former is the album at its most “video gamey” and will be loved by those that grew up on and intravenous feed of Nintendo. ‘Home’ contrasts it with subtle, delicate use of effects; long, powerful vocals on the chorus; and that beautiful bitcrushed outro, all contributing to a really full exploration of textures.
It could be mused that Madeon was one of the key innovators in live electronic music, in the sense that he played a big part in popularising the clip launching style that dominates the live scene today. Adventure feels like an album that will dominate the stage with it’s rich textured tracks. Yes, it does feel a bit weak at points, but ultimately, that serves only to appeal to more listeners. It’s a great work that shows a clear future plan for Madeon. It’s rare that an electronic album sounds like it will translate to a live show this strongly. Give it a listen so that you can get the full experience live, because that’s where these tracks are really going to shine.
Adventure is out now via Columbia Records.