I was instantly hooked when I heard Over the Fountain, the opening track on Heterotopias, Chevalier Avant Garde’s debut album. It exists in that narrow channel where machine and human are almost one, the moment when you can’t really tell who is running the show. This is a mechanical 80’s diary; beat machines and cloaked vocals hum inner thoughts among analogue keys and constant rhythm, like an industrial pop machine.
Chevalier Avant Garde is a European duo residing in Canada. First up is Dimitri, of Greek-Egyptian descent, next is Filip, who grew up in the Polish industrial city of Lodz. They hooked up in Montreal, drinking too much and coming up with an album title that derives from the Foucaultian concept of ‘alternative spaces’, areas existing only between ‘here’ and ‘there’.
It suits them: this record indeed feels like it was conceived and born somewhere alternative, shy of human touch. Yet many of Heterotopias’ songs are upbeat in rhythm. Young sounds like Joy Division with more synths, while Nie Rozumiem has the enthusiasm of The Human League at their most upbeat.
The band keeps the record sounding uniform, a similar make-up of digits and obscured voices. Admittedly at times it can become a little over-run with an alienating sense of short-circuitry. I can’t listen to the repetitive, synthetic bassline on Loss without feeling a little delirious. But in the main this is an effective foray into digital landscapes, an exploration of pop with retro equipment, cold metallic surfaces housing a surprising amount of human soul.