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Wherefore art thou, Chromeo? Electro-pop duo to rock the Riviera

Scott Ostrin, Columnist

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It has been a packed couple of weeks for up-and-coming performers at Northwestern: Big K.R.I.T. performed as the headliner at the For Members Only annual Spring Concert on Saturday night, along with others; Chance The Rapper was announced as the daytime highlight for Dillo Day (keep pumping those “Acid Rap” tracks, pre-gamers); and this Friday, Chromeo will be headlining A&O Ball at the Riviera Theatre. Like Mayfest’s decision to give a boost to fresh-faced Chance over last year’s rap performer Wiz Khalifa, A&O has chosen a not-quite-known Montreal electro-pop duo to succeed last year’s dinosaur Ludacris. With its fourth LP, “White Women,” on the cusp of release, Chromeo has been given a great opportunity to make an impact on NU students.

Coming from the Outremont suburb of Montreal, David Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel have joked that they are the only example of a successful Jewish-Arab collaboration. Considering where they’re from, this is hardly surprising. I’m from Montreal, so excuse the brief tangent; their home suburb has a concentrated French, Arab and Moroccan Jewish community. College Stanislas, their high school alma mater, is an all-French high school, which might explain some of Dave 1’s singing affectations.

Montreal aside (go Habs go!), the boys from Outremont are still trying to craft their sound and find the right levels of production and texture in their music. Their most recent LP from 2010, “Business Casual,” was an uneven effort in my opinion. Clumsy overuse of common electro-pop sounds, or sometimes grasping for any sound to use at all, like car horns in an instrumental break of “You Make it Rough,” mires most of this album. It suffers from this type of problem frequently: There are several instrumental breaks in the middle of songs in order to keep a jam going or try to transition into a newer beat or sound. However, without momentum or drive, these breaks serve to only prolong the inevitable. The party has fizzled out (sometimes never taking off in the first place) and the track has to end. Dave 1’s lyrics are commonly lacking as well, as he chooses odd word mixtures that typically lack movement and are not easily memorable.

Let’s talk about what works on this third LP. Album opener “Hot Mess” has a synth solo with fantastic speed and thrust. It practically belongs in one of the “Sonic the Hedgehog” games on the Sega Genesis. Before you count me out as some weird nerd (but aren’t we all?), give any track from those games a listen. They’ve got undeniable funk and ’80s appeal, much like this opener. And hey, Michael Jackson worked on one of the old “Sonic” games, and David Macklovitch recently said in an interview that he would listen to Jackson’s “Thriller” on his deathbed. I don’t know why, but hey, segues. The funky, processed synth on this song is evidence of some hot ’80s electro-pop style.

And the ’80s influences continue on “When the Night Falls,” the collective lovechild of Madonna, Hall and Oates, that Daft Punk tinny voice (you know the one) and fun vibes. The springy synth sounds right before the pre-chorus are right out of Madonna’s hit “Holiday.”

This album, and their music, is undeniably cheesy. I think if you’re making music that’s a throwback to the ’80s, this is a reality that you have to accept. Whether or not Chromeo is aware of this or not is the more important factor. I’m not sure Dave 1’s lyrics indicate such a self-awareness, but the production almost certainly does. The incessant violins of “Don’t Walk Away” combined with funk is almost too ’80s for the musicians not to realize just how much cheese they’re dealing with here.

But that’s “Business Casual,” an album from four years ago. After listening to their four released singles for “White Women,” I’m very glad to say that most of my issues with 2010’s LP have been dealt with or minimized. The latest single “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” is just a feel-good song. Here’s just a catchy hook: “I get jealous/but I’m too cool to admit it/When the fellas/talk to my girl I admit it.” Dave 1 has finally found a solid balance between those falsetto highs and sultry lows that work with a rhythm that fits his voice. And my God, that bass! Can you tell that P-Thugg has been listening to Daft Punk’s 2013 hit “Get Lucky?”

Check out their live performance of the song from their Coachella 2014 setlist. Even if you’re not about their “Katy Perry meets Daft Punk meets Michael Jackson” dripping-in-’80s sound, I think that there’s enough energy and enthusiasm from these guys that they’re worth a shot on Friday at the Riviera Theatre. And hey, they’re from Montreal. And who doesn’t love things from Montreal? You? Yeah, I didn’t think so.