music review – Thomas Azier, Hylas

“A play between hope and despair.” That’s how Thomas Azier, a Dutchman who moved to Berlin to make music and eventually managed to sign a record deal in France, describes his music. For all intents and purposes it’s an apt description: the lyrics are about love, loss, lust, hope, freedom and the obstacles we have to overcome to achieve some form of happiness. Azier uses the music itself to create a mood, an almost tangible place for the stories he tells, and the atmosphere can vary greatly: from a melancholy sound to uplifting melodies, often a shift that occurs in a single song. What the artist has effectively done is create a modern form of the Greek myths and tragedies he alludes to, the album and opening track’s title the name of a figure from classical mythology, a youth abducted by water nymphs.

Calling Thomas Azier’s style electronic pop suffices, but it also sells Azier’s unique brand short: there are a lot of influences at play here and he blends those masterfully. From French “chansons” to dance to industrial to the song structuring story tellers like Chris Isaak and Bruce Springsteen use to 90’s video game music, and more. It’s hard to pin Azier down, which is undoubtedly one of his greatest strenghts. Another is his clear vision: each song has a defined center (usually Azier’s raw and heartfelt vocals) and all the other elements are built around that one element. The result is that each song is focused and that there is a less is more approach to the album’s compositions. What the meriad of influences allows Azier to do, is use a slightly different template for each song, without risk of having a fractured album that doesn’t come together. Everything fits his style, but there’s enough leeway there to create different soundscapes and to keep offering surprises to Hylas‘ listeners. Not only is Azier’s debut a strong collection of songs, but it’s also an assortment that moves and flows beautifully.

Hylas‘ regular edition contains 12 tracks, the iTunes version (if pre-ordered) featured 13 songs, because of added exclusive track ‘1000 Eyes’. It’s sad that many listeners will miss out on this gem, because of the limited availability: in essence it’s a power ballad that takes elements from classic rock ‘n’ roll, dips those in Azier’s powerful electronic sound and the result is a one-of-a-kind song. But don’t fret: the standard version of the album has enough to offer to warrant repeated listenings. Some of Hylas‘ tracks previously appeared on Azier’s EP’s, like ‘Red Eyes’ and ‘Angelene’, but most tracks are brand-new. ‘Yearn Yearn’ is a stand-out track, with a catchy but uneasy loop, thumping bass and powerful beats, and Azier’s signature raw and crooning voice at its heart. His lean and mean storytelling is present here as well. “Summer love, the winter is coming for us,” the singer exclaims in a song that blends want, memories, beauty and a sense of dread and unavoidability.

Thomas Azier’s debut Hylas is an assured one: not only has he created a signature sound for himself and a fantastic collection of songs, he’s also likely delivered one 2014’s best albums. 9/10

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