The Perfect Beat of Møme’s and the Love Story in the “Flashback FM”
Notes on Møme’s and Ricky Ducati’s album “Flashback FM” (2021)
By Elena Vassilieva
Møme, the French enfant terrible in the electronic music world, and the Canadian musician from L.A. Ricky Ducati released their long-awaited collaborative album “Flashback FM” at midnight, February 12, 2021. Møme, known for his vigorous and attractive beat and his creative versatility, is one of the brightest producers on Earth today, ever since his momentous artistic endeavour “Panorama” saw the light in 2016. The terra-australis-inspired “Panorama” was perceived by the musical critics as an overnight success of “petit génie de l’electro” (RTS, la radio du Sud), but even his earlier EPs “Eclipse” (2014) and “Cosmopolitan” (2015) are a splendid body of meticulous work that is equally refreshing. The classically trained Møme (Jérémy Souillart), who seems to have had a very strict and rigorous piano teacher and a very open-minded and encouraging guitar mentor at the school of music in Nice, acquired all the necessary skills to create music according to the rules common in classical music, but as he pleases. And the result speaks for itself. Right from the beginning, he had decided to use only his own samples. He plays piano and his favourite guitar; he records sounds found in natural and social environment, and inserts them into his French Touch-ed and Chillwaved House that is an aromatic bouquet of elements from various musical genres and styles. Just take a look at his last year production of Mr. J. Medeiros’ “No Singles” EP, which is on my list of the best musical projects of 2020, where Møme’s beautifully intense instrumental piece “Japan Mental” complements Medeiros’ work so nicely. Or listen to his very engaging soundtrack to the Alpine movie “Shelter” (2019), and you’ll know right away what I mean. He is a serious competitor and rival to any electronic dance music creator, even the seasoned one.
Their Paris-L.A. collaboration started about 3 years ago, although Møme and Ricky Ducati (then busy with his project Midnight to Monaco) had already created together the popular “Alive,” which adorns “Panorama,” and “Sail Away,” part of the fascinating EP L.A. “Møment II” (2018). The “Flashback FM,” “a mixture of the retro and futuristic vibes” (Møme), was envisioned as a radio station, which plays all the 15 tracks that serve as a narrative space, where life of their characters evolves. An excellent conceptualist, Møme pays attention to every single detail in the conceptual design of the album. All the songs are connected with each other sonically through this radio theme and also through the characters’ sentiments wrapped in a flashback. The lyrics, a fruit of Ducati’s imagination (with Sonny Sachdeva and Nicole d’Anna’s occasional help), are a realistic depiction of life; some are easy and light-hearted (e.g., “She’s Gone,” “Flamingo”), some are earnest, reflecting on the conflictual side of life (“They Said,” “I Know”). The characters’ emotions, their complicated relationships, their search for happiness, the other, and home are almost Sisyphian, and are a significant part of the lyrical content. The synthwave-y “In Control” is one of the best songs on the album lyrically. The way the character is brooding over the complex existential problems, while driving with the autopilot turned on in the given time and space, is compelling and profound.
After the release of the video clips for the most vibrant songs on the album “Got It Made” and “I Know,” they shifted the focus to the two male heroes. “Got It Made” and also “Friends” have a boost of inspiration from Daft Punk. The positive and pulsating energy of “Got It Made” is so strong and forceful that one ends up returning to the song again and again, and dancing to it till s/he drops. And it’s hard to resist Møme’s perfect beat here. In the superb video, directed by Pauma, out of nowhere, in the middle of the deserted and futuristic city, two handsome characters appear. They are described by Møme as robots, although they aren’t your ordinary machines, not the sort of Kraftwerk’s robots, either, who are reduced to mere tools that would repeat: “We are the robots. We are the robots. Я твой слуга. Я твой работник.” On the contrary, the Daft Punkesque, humanlike creatures, are so happily in love that they seem to notice only each other, whilst fully engaged in a playfully seductive dance, wonderfully choreographed by Ablaye Diop, Louise Adj, Manon Bouquet, and Abel Djelali. This love story, set in the colourful, digital cityscape and Martian landscape, creates a very special uplifting atmosphere and conveys the memorable impression of happiness. Now, what kind of robot is capable of doing that?
The mood in the song and video clip “I Know” is quite different due to the circumstances the characters are forced to endure. The lovely playfulness of “Got It Made” is replaced here by the tragic darkness of impossibility of the physical touch and intimacy. The love story ends in the literal (in the clip) physical and emotional crush of the characters. “I Know” is the album’s pièce de resistance, as it’s more original than the Daft Punk-driven “Got It Made,” also the emotional depth of the song is very moving. The robotlike heroes are a metaphor for the progressing digitalisation of our existence and society where social interaction is being more and more pushed and transferred into the virtual realities. But we are still humans, aren’t we, and mustn’t forget it. It’s also a reminder to us of what role a human being has in this universe. The question whether the AI would ever be able to replicate human emotions remains open, though I doubt it would. But the hypothesis that humans could/would become half-machines in the future seems dangerously plausible, and I dread it.
Of course, there are also songs here where the sketches of the female portraits are made, but they are not as vivid, let alone sensual, as the male ones. The female who just left the character in the rhythmic and breezy “She’s Gone” or even the sweet “Flamingo,” an energetic, warm, and humid song that has some sonic references to Møme’s “Club Sandwich,” both make a fleeting impression. “She’s Gone” sounds like a variation of “Cantare,” I’m curious how the song will be received by the Latin American audience? The Pitbull’s ft. Lenier version of “Cantare” has more than 5 million views since January 2021. And it seems like the “Flashback FM” creators may have had precisely this aim in mind, going mainstream, that is, when choosing the period soundscape. The song “Moves” is slightly tired and uninspired, although stylistically it is that sort of song you would really want to slow-dance to, as in the 80s, but melodically it is so unremarkable that you would wonder whether both artists got out of breath at that point and decided to take a break. I wish they had Vladimir Cosma’s “Reality,” performed by Richard Sanderson for the movie “La Boum” (1980), as a Vorbild, while writing the song, then the desired effect would’ve been there. And the effect of Il n’est ni bon ni mauvais would’ve been avoided. But perhaps that was precisely the desired effect? Also, lyrically, the rhyming of ‘money’ and ‘honey’ is a huge ‘no,’ unless it’s a deliberate move to stress this paradigm, but then it’s utterly unromantic, isn’t it? Remember “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles?
Ricky Ducati offers mostly smart vocal execution on the album. His vocal style is particularly gripping in the triad “They Said,” “I Know,” and “Got It Made”, the key songs that are holding the whole album together and the listener under a spell, and he is very impressive in “They Said.” In good trim are his vocals in the dancey “My Attention,” the song that is reminiscent of the Weeknd. I didn’t expect everyone’s darling to land here, but maybe my ears playing tricks on me? Whatever the case is, it’s a sprightly and lively variation. But shall Ducati wish to add more vibrant flexibility to his vocal space in the future, that would be of benefit. Møme’s response to the lyrical and vocal side of the songs is being expressed best in his tremendously fine guitar lines, which are essential part of the sonic narrative in the songs in this saga of distances, longing, roads, car rides, radio, broken hearts, friendship, and love. All the instrumental tracks are very fanciful and captivating. “The Final Dream” is a lush and elegant piece of the synthwave, filled with joy and optimism, despite the somewhat sad title.
This is a formidable and tidily produced album, conceptualised as the period sound (of the 80s and the 90s), that is meant to be played on the radio, but at the same time, it’s a little bit disappointing that with this choice of the musical style they limited themselves greatly to a parade of the cliché-pieces, such as “She’s Gone” or “Flamingo.” It’s a pity, as it seems to me that because of this Møme couldn’t play here to his full artistic potential. On the other hand, it’s understandable if they want to experiment and please a different listener than someone like me. But, luckily, they have the songs on “Flashback FM” that I also like.
Congratulations, Møme and Ricky!
(written on the snowy Shining Sea bikeway on Cape Cod on February 15, 2021)
Copyright © Elena Vassilieva All Rights Reserved 2021