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John Talabot John TalabotFin

8.5 / 10

When talking about John Talabot, light is always mentioned. Summer, and smiles, all that happy stuff suggested by care-free music with lots of bright synths and rhythms that seem to be taken from a mini jungle. His progression can't be understood without first taking a look at “Sunshine” (Hivern, 2009), the single that put him on the map of the European house revival, with its crescendo on the verge of euphoria. However, there's more (and less obvious assets) on this debut album, “?in, which, in a way, forces us to re-examine his sound, his intentions and the way he produces music. He is still the John Talabot we know from his previous EPs (especially “Families EP”, on Young Turks, his first real attempt to produce something vaguely identifiable as pop), but he is a complete artist now, with more possibilities and more versatility than we expect of him (supposing we had pre-conceptions: he used to be anonymous, didn't want to show any photos revealing his face, always communicating via mail, not disclosing his true identity, making sure people would be talking about the music, not his clothes or his past). “?in” isn't an album on a single course, but rather several albums in one, sometimes going in the same direction and sometimes opposed to each other. In short: Talabot shows us a much more complex vision than what he has shown us so far.

There are leitmotivs: the slow pace (“?in” is not meant to be played in a club, at least, not at peak-time), the deep-house pulse, the use of eroded vocals (only Pional's voice is recognisable as human - on “Destiny”, an impeccable exercise in house-pop - alongside Delorean frontman Ekhi's on the psychedelic “Journeys”) and the fine balance John Talabot keeps between happiness and introspection. With those elements, the album shifts and takes a shape depending on the moment; leaving the impression, as it moves on, that it has travelled some very crowded roads, where something is always happening. Maybe the start of “*in” could cause some confusion - “Depak Ine”isn't only the longest track, but it's also the one that best fits with our initial idea of John Talabot: forestal, tribal, slow motion house bathing in hope. But as the album evolves, different emotions start to surface, in less univocal tones. On “El Oeste” (“The West”), for example, there are three minutes of absolute suspense, the aroma is nocturnal, the synth-lines bend like the waves of a sea that is starting to become wild.

In Hitchcockian terms, we would speak of McGuffin: “?in” is an album that promises a conclusion that never comes; it's a voyage with no final destination (the fun is in the trip itself, never in the destination, which makes it curious that there are titles like “Fin” and “Destiny”, evoking such different things from “Journeys” and “El Oeste”). It achieves something most records can't even begin to strive for: a personal world. The more you listen to the record, the harder it is to place it anywhere in particular on the world map (if it sounds like Barcelona, it sounds like Barcelona in autumn, but nobody in Barcelona makes house like this, except if they are signed to the label where Talabot's star began to shine, Hivern), and even harder to fit it in to that scene, so badly called Balearic; it's even too versatile and vaporous for a label like Permanent Vacation. What, at first, may seem as a sound without hooks, ends up revealing itself as a record in motion, sometimes going deep down into the ocean ( “Missing You”), sometimes reaching for the sky ( “Last Land”, with those strings at the end with which he turns melancholy into happiness) and even abruptly stopping at points. “Estiu” is a track that holds many of the different features that make up “?in”: it starts as a kind of revival of late-nineties ambient-breaks (on labels like Hardkiss, and by artists like God Within), only to end up presenting an ending full of melodies, which, suddenly, stops and doesn't go on. The same frustration you get with “When The Past Was Present” (also reminiscent of old-time progressive house, with jumpy piano tones in the vein of Junior Boy’s Own), which never becomes the anthem it could have been, and “So Will Be Now”, with its nineties Chicago ending, with that acidic and stabbing bassline, where Pional becomes a post-disco guru with a distorted voice.

“?in” is difficult at first, precisely because it's not obvious. The parts and influences are recognisable, but they're out of place, like when someone changes around the order of the clothes in a wardrobe. You have to situate yourself on unusual coordinates, and start following John Talabot's path from there. It can be bold, erratic, labyrinthine or marvellous, depending on the moment, but the final sensation gets stronger with every listen: not only does he seem to have kept some cards for the future, but he has also presented a different landscape, at once bright and gloomy, and that's exactly why it is so valuable.

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