For a few months in the early 2000s, no self-respecting arty dance party was complete without the icy, albeit slightly amused, Mitteleuropean tones of Miss Kittin, aka French DJ, producer and singer Caroline Hervé. Songs like “Frank Sinatra,” featuring the Hacker, and “Silver Screen Shower Scene,” featuring Felix da Housecat, were at the brief populist peak of electroclash, a short-lived genre that brought an alien glamour, DIY showmanship and a sly sense of humor to slamming electro beats before collapsing under the weight of his own vanity around 2003.
Kittin and the Hacker’s 2001 debut LP, First albumwas maybe the musical culmination of the electroclash years, a catchy and gothic-noir work that could be funny to death. Their follow-up, 2009 Of them, expanded the duo’s horizons to include pure pop and trance sparkle, but it never quite reached the same heights, and the duo went their own way. Thirteen years later, Kittin and the Hacker are back with third albumpromising a return to what they do best: “our roots, minimal and raw electro”.
Musical progression is not on the menu. Twenty-one years may have passed since First albumbut you would have a hard time noticing it third albumThe musical makeup, which offers less of an update to the duo’s signature sound and more of a subtle finish with a soft chamois. The production is slightly smoother, the drums hit a little harder, and the overall feel is a little more robust. But on the whole, the march of the electro drums, the percolating Italo-disco synths and the disturbing chords of First album are present, correct and in good working order, leaving the brightest elements of Of them stuffed in the back of the closet like a tie-dye tee at the end of summer. This classic dark look suits them well: third album is home to a host of wonderfully magical musical moments, from the acid cut lines and eerie chords of “Ostbahnhof” to the bewilderingly beautiful synth riff that runs through “Retrovision” like an unhappy memory.
But if the music on third album is similar to the beginning, the voices show more adventure. Hervé’s default tone is perhaps still the icy, disaffected air of First album, in which she slips into like a beautiful pajama on songs like “Ostbahnhof” and “19”. But she actually sings on “Sick,” and the song’s chorus flies off in a way that the disinterested narrator of “Frank Sinatra” would no doubt have considered way too much of an effort. On “Purist,” meanwhile, Hervé’s voice is stripped of all white cynicism and considerably more engaged, his raw and rather flawed voice almost punk rock in spirit.
Lyrically too, third album features departures from the worlds of nightclubs, glitz and illicit romance. “Malade” is a shrewd and rather poignant French-language attack on outdated romantic ideals, while “Retrovision” offers a touching and accepting look at the passage of time (“Now we delirious without standing up/At the sunset of our life”) which brings unprecedented emotional depths to the Hacker/Kittin project. That these are the two best songs on Third album is no coincidence.