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Marie Davidson is back with a new album, a new band, and a bold new sound: “Renegade Breakdown” is set for release on 25th September on Ninja Tune. Arriving under the banner of Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu, a trio formed of three old-time friends and long-term collaborators with shared roots in Montreal’s DIY scene: Marie, Pierre Guerineau and Asaël R. Robitaille (the former two are also husband and wife, and partners in the group Essaie pas). Drawn to the idea of the eternal return, they deliver a forward-facing, innovative pop record that builds on the classic tenets of Marie’s music to create something that strikes out towards a broader audience. With dark humour and interpolated musical influences—from Fleetwood Mac to Kraftwerk, and jazz classics such as Billie Holiday and Chet Baker—they spin each of its entries in wildly imaginative directions.
The title, alongside the artwork—with its three versions of Marie—are nods to the recent experiences of Davidson, the group’s frontwoman, lyrics-writer and synth player, and the journey that’s led her here. “Renegade Breakdown” is a reaction to years in which she spent most of her life on the road, navigating the club and festival lifestyle: the airports, the late nights, the lost or damaged gear—often alone, always with her case of instruments and cables in tow. Documented in part by Resident Advisor for their ‘Between The Beats’ series, she candidly laid out the realities of her life on tour and the toll it would take on her health: dealing with feelings of dislocation and disorientation and battling her chronic insomnia, exacerbated by a never ending transition from one time zone to the next. “I get in these states where I start to question everything, and I hate myself,” she told RA at the time, “sometimes I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.”
It follows her breakout 2018 album “Working Class Woman”, which was lauded by Pitchfork as “a bold-moves-only album where feminist theory and house music are inseparable,” and met with similar adulation from the likes of The Guardian, The New York Times and Crack Magazine, as well as being ranked highly in end-of-year (and decade) lists by Mixmag, The Quietus, Bleep, Bandcamp and many more. Meanwhile, the track ‘Work It’ garnered worldwide dance-floor anthem status, helped by a Soulwax remix, the iconic duo’s re-work garnering over 10m+ streams and a GRAMMY nomination. In the wake of the album’s success, she toured heavily across Europe and North America and it was here that the tipping point came for Davidson, worn out by the often destructive cycles of the touring lifestyle, this disenchantment with club culture provided the catalyst to do something different musically. As she eyed up the end of the tour, she called up Robitaille and Guerineau about an idea they’d come up with the previous year: to make music inspired by pop—such as the iconic work of French singer Mylène Farmer—and to expand their approach to the music from a songwriters perspective.
If there’s a mood that encapsulates “Renegade Breakdown”, it’s the one to be found at 3AM after a long night, when it’s time to start putting on the classics. “We wanted to make songs, like the music we’ve been enjoying altogether for more than a decade,” says Marie. It’s a return to their roots that’s exemplified by the title track, an all-out, anthemic pop track in a unique vein, melding 80s-influenced production, Davidson’s acerbic spoken critique and hands-in-the-air choruses. (The track’s lyrics, in a mixture of French and English are typically coolly and darkly funny: “Oh by the way, there are no money makers on this record / This time, I’m exploring the loser’s point of view.”)
‘Centre of the World (Kotti Blues)’ is another prime example of the distinctly singer-songwriter vein running throughout the record—it started as an ode to Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor, a sentimental location, and one that has been a nexus of the trio’s shared time in the city. The sound and arrangement, led by Robitaille, nods to Pat Metheny and the acoustic string arrangements of Genesis.
There are other parts that bear a closer relation to their respective roots in electronic music. On ‘Lead Sister’, for instance, which started with a MIDI version of a piece by baroque composer Marcello, the final result is dark and dissonant. The mood reflects the subject matter of Davidson’s lyrics, revolving around Karen Carpenter, of The Carpenters, who died of complications from anorexia, and who was subject to intense psychological abuse behind the duo’s smiling all-American facade. “It’s a subject that’s pretty close to me,” says Davidson, who got immersed in the band’s history after hearing about their backstory.
Elsewhere, ‘C’est parce que j’m’en fous’, driven by a re-tooled French electro beat, has the hallmarks of a classic Marie Davidson track, its spoken lyrics sharply critiquing preconceptions about feminism and femininity. And on ‘Worst Comes To Worst’, they embrace their love of classic disco, though always re-imagined through an array of small touches, like metal guitars chopped up and repurposed for the pre-chorus, in a nod to Daft Punk and the French Touch.
An eternal subversive who’s experienced a bump in the road, and decided to take a new direction, Marie Davidson wanted the camaraderie of making music with the people she knew best. For all of them, they were enticed by the idea of doing things in a different way. Their first proper release as a group, after years of friendship and shared musical interests, it’s a new stage that draws far into the reaches of their diverse musical interests. In the repeated refrain of album closer ‘Sentiment’, Davidson sings, “I know I have a feeling.” This album is about following your instinct, returning to your roots, and building on them to do something new and different.