Album Review: Keep Dancing Inc – Embrace

[un plan simple; 2020]

There’s no denying that Parisian trio Keep Dancing Inc have a sense of humor. In an NME interview earlier this year, when asked what they’d call their would-be stans, they answered “Our Investors.” In a DIY interview, the band described their music through the use of emojis (to be fair, their answer was to be framed as a Tinder bio).

Of course, humor is only one aspect of their kaleidoscopic persona, one that pulls from decades of influences and is expected of young bands searching for their sound. Take “Fix Me Now”, the opening track off of their aptly-titled first EP Initial Public Offering, which bears resemblance to Talking Heads circa Speaking in Tongues. Across this and their second EP, Restructuration, listeners can hear experimentations that range from loungy yacht rock to the biting synth of DFA signees.

Those efforts paid off; on their debut album, Embrace, members Gabrielle Cresseaux, Louis de Marliave, and Joseph Signoret deliver a fully-realized and oftentimes thrilling album of dance and synth-pop. Opener “Start Up Nation” opens with a simple enough hook that becomes the cornerstone for the track’s impending anthemic energy. The glistening “Uncertainty” — with Signoret’s grooving bass and de Marliave’s plucking guitar taking the foreground — follows the neon-colored path of De Lux. “Silent and Satisfied” is built on a spacious and pulsating melody that compliments de Marliave’s echoing vocals. For a song all about escapism (“We could go on the lake / On a sunny summer day”), the rhythms are strong enough to keep listeners drawn in.

The trio’s chemistry comes to a head on single “Could U Stop”, a psychedelic-tinged track that examines the conflicts of fraternal rivalry: “Do you really have to spoil the good times we have? / By showing me up, making me seem so bad,” and the roaring chorus, complete with handclaps, never distracts from the darker tone set at the start. Meanwhile, “Old Child” — the album’s longest, and perhaps strongest, track — showcases the trio’s ability to condense many ideas into a compelling whole. Around the three-minute mark, the track evolves into an instrumental suite of synth trade-offs that captures the euphoria of the best Holy Ghost. 

None of this is to say their humor has vanished. Indeed, “Start Up Nation” is a tongue-in-cheek take on the mirage of self-made entrepreneurship: “Hail to the start up nation / Embrace the sale, embrace the fail.” “No Milkshakes in Hell” opens with a bouncy, manic synth line that could soundtrack the boss level of a Super Nintendo game. The lyrics slowly slide into the deranged, climaxing in a reverberating wall of sound and thudding percussion that sounds like a punchline.

The album also has its share of breathers. “Moving On” features former Metronomy member Night Works, who offers his vocals over a loungy tune that holds consistent throughout its four-minute runtime (save the brief sax solos that follow the chorus). Stronger is the track “Corsica Love”, where pristine keys and the members’ harmonizing vocals effectively evoke the paradise of the song’s namesake.

Nevertheless, Embrace also shows signs of great maturity from a band whose members are barely in their 20s. The story of album closer “How It Starts” is a timeless one: two people hooking up after getting drunk at a bar. The key insight? Not all embraces are selfless or healing: some are selfish and scarring. “Long Enough”, another album highlight, opens with a Strokes-esque guitar riff that settles into a soft bed of synth chords and rhythmic bass lines. Here, Cresseaux and Marliave are the track’s center, where they sing about all too familiar positions kids face when creative ambitions butt heads with the practical plans laid out by parents. But here, again, they understand the weight of their choices: “I do have the right to be wrong / Cause it’s the only way for me / To become what I should be.” To them, it’s still worth the risk.

To their credit, the members of Keep Dancing Inc are very much aware of their fortunes. Embrace was engineered and mixed by Tom Carmichael, who’s worked with Kendrick Lamar, Haim, and many other standout artists. All three members have a different sexual oritentation, yet were mostly free of discrimination thanks to their upbringing in the accepting communities of Paris. “Through [Keep Dancing Inc], we want to channel a universally free energy that unifies genders without distinction,” Cresseaux and Signoret have explained. “Keep Dancing Inc is a celebration and a communion through dancing.” It’s an ambitious mission statement for such a young band, but clearly they’re up to the task.