Unreal début from French musician, artist, writer and dramaturge, Oï les Ox; basically one of the craftiest albums we’ve heard all of this damned 2020 - riddled with melodic ohrwurms - a massive RIYL Trevor Duncan’s La Jetée soundtrack to the most enigmatic oddities from Broadcast to Julia Holter, Teresa Winter to Nozomu Matsumoto and Rian Treanor’s disruptive rhythms.
Oï les Ox is the stage name of Aude Van Wyller, and ‘Crooner qui coole sous les clous’ (translation: A crooner that sinks under nails) is a sci-fi opera about an anonymous civilian consumer and a totalitarian governor who forces people to dance to broadcasts of strange pop ballads and mutant electronics. The hour-long, four part album revolves a libretto written by the Brussels-based artist in her native French, and performed in shapeshifting guises, all set to incredibly crystalline yet mercurial synth arrangements and truly devilish drum programming. It encompasses nods to everything from coldwave to chamber music, æther folk, chanson and synth-pop in thee most beguiling style, all woven together by a spellbinding vocal presence and needlepoint arps that patently place her music in a déjà entendu-familiar, but exceedingly rare, other dimension.
Across its four parts, field recordings elide with original synthesis and multiple vocal personas to spell out a flux of fleeting emotions with breathtaking subtlety and sensuality. Each part contains an album’s worth of ideas, persistently altering the scenery, lighting and style with inimitable deftness between passages of puckered songcraft, sound collage, and dance music abstraction that betrays a shockingly keen reading and transmutation of classic and contemporary vernacular into a singular, cinematic/operatic whole.
Just as the rave gods commanded exeunt the dance at the start of 2020, ’Crooner qui coole sous les clous’ arrived to us like a dream demo, quickly becoming a go-to album that totally absorbed and distracted from the needling ambient anxieties outside. By the time summer came around, though, the album weirdly recalled the trauma of first lockdown too palpably, and we genuinely couldn’t listen to it any more. However with autumn’s 2nd lockdown, and a renewed optimism, we had better come to terms with isolation, and the hypnotic, inquisitive nature and elusive beauty of Oï les Ox’s music, and her captivating story-telling now finds its place in the world as a life-affirming expression of modern eeriness that’s dead hard to shake once experienced.