College Heritage

[Invada; 2013]

Styles: synthpop, soundtrack, atmospherica
Others: Kraftwerk, Symmetry, Xander Harris, Rosso Corsa

Alpha 60, the computer city-mind of Jean-Luc Godard’s dystopian Alphaville, declares: “Everything has been said, provided words do not change their meanings, and meanings their words.”

Words, however, change their meanings simply by the moment in time at which they’re spoken: the same river twice, and all that. But where does this leave retromania?

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to say that, five or six years ago, with the Italo revival about to break and purveyors of this sound (let alone purveyors with College’s level of sophistication and attention to detail) few and far between, Heritage would have been an exciting album. And the final product is indeed classy — smooth and sleek, fully detailed with a luxe leather interior. It continues to be true that instrumental synth of this caliber is a perfect backdrop, but today it gives the impression of digital trompe-l’œil, a backdrop devoid of foreground, a Real Hero as crash test dummy.

Having said that, however, I tip my fedora to David Grellier for his sources of inspiration, which are not taken from the tired stock prop wardrobe common to most 80s synth revival. Instead, he references the French animation sci-fi tradition: influential cartoonist Jean Giraud (better known as Moebius); Jean Chalopin (if you’ll indulge me for a moment, allow me to direct your attention to Chalopin’s pensive Classic, Ulysses 31); and soundtrack artist for 80s children’s fantasy, Shuki Levy. There is a historical and thematic crossover here with the utopian-dystopian fantasy work of Japanese anime virtuosos such as Hayao Miyazaki, though on Heritage, we find ourselves rather somewhere between Cowboy Bebop and Ghost In The Shell.

In terms of the Franco-Japanese connection, we might think of Yellow Magic Orchestra, on the bouncy, over-too-soon “Alter Ego.” Grellier also discusses the “melancholy accents” of Giraud’s work in relation to Heritage, and this is apparent in the beautifully evocative sunset rhythms of “Révélation” and “Nouveau Chapitre.”

But in dealing with animation as inspiration, there is also an invocation of the visual, of the sweep of the panorama, from Tron’s light cycle arena to Drive’s neon-and-leather calamities — or the windswept, curve-laden cliffs along which the ideal convertible glides, the female passenger’s blonde hair trailing in the wind. And this quality speaks to an inoffensiveness of mood.

Even the cover art seems Struzan-esque, but a detail of a Struzan poster, missing the bold figurativeness of the main action. As Alphaville’s Professor Braun puts it: “Men of your type will soon become extinct. You’ll become something worse than dead. You’ll become a legend.”

Links: College - Invada

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