Woodkid, The Golden Age

The musician who records under the name “Woodkid” is a Frenchman whose first full length album The Golden Age is thoroughly lushly orchestrated but doesn’t skimp on the percussion. His beautiful, unique voice has the timbre of a bass clarinet and an accent that sounds, to my ears, not just not French but barely of this world. Over a bed of strings and horns that ebb and swell in all the right ways and drums that boom or clatter as appropriate, he deploys that voice in a way that I can only describe as “bloodless” in the hope of conveying why this album doesn’t resonate with me nearly as much as it seems to want to.

It’s not even that Woodkid’s singing is homogeneous, exactly: as a straightforward example, there’s a clear contrast between the muted verses and the more unrestrained chorus in “Conquest of Spaces”. Even during the latter, though, it still feels like Woodkid is holding back. He never really seems to cut loose and just bellow like I’m pretty sure he can and like the huge arrangements make me want him to; neither does his voice ever deviate much from a sort of emotional equilibrium. As you can hear in “Conquest of Spaces”, it mostly varies only in volume.

So, unfortunately, the closest this album comes to emotional resonance is in the late ballad “Where I Live”: we get a hint of desperation in Woodkid’s raspy voice in the choruses and his near-gasps for breath in between lines. But in the next song and first single “Iron”, he’s back to mostly letting the horns and drums take the reins. Don’t get me wrong, they do it admirably, the horns blaring out a hook that’s three parts martial and one part mournful before dropping into a dark percussion groove. The instrumentation on this album is epic, and I mean that in the sense that it was meant before people on the Internet started using it to talk about their grilled cheese sandwiches and shit: if at least one of these songs don’t appear on a movie soundtrack inside of two years, I will be shocked. Listen to the first twenty seconds of “The Great Escape” if you want to hear the kind of thing I’m talking about.

I think the convincing filmic atmosphere of this album is is the key to the other reason it doesn’t hit home with me, though: there are few examples of its seeming to take many risks. In retrospect I alluded to this in the opening paragraph: every aspect of these songs, from the fist pumpers to the ballads, seems to fall along well-trod paths. It’s hard to qualify this feeling, but the paucity of emotion combined with the nagging impression that any given thirty-second excerpt was created for maximal soundtrack uptake makes these songs feel assembled rather than created.

It’s unfortunate that The Golden Age doesn’t resonate with me, because if it did it’s so well executed that it’d probably be one of my favorite albums of the year. But in the end, I don’t feel much when I listen to it: some admiration, maybe, for the craft. But that’s not enough.