It should come as no great shock that ‘Still Waters’, the second album from French producer and Ed Banger resident Breakbot, isn’t a particularly surprising or challenging listen. That’s by no means a criticism - the producer and his label mates have consistently created some of the best French house and modern disco of the last decade. But if you weren’t expecting groovy basslines, disco synths and feel-good funk, then we’re not sure you’ve been paying attention. The new album from the French producer, real name Thibaut Berland, doesn’t deviate drastically from the formula, but would you want it to?
On ‘Still Waters’, the follow-up to his 2012 debut ‘By Your Side’, Berland takes as much (if not more) from the funk and disco of old as from the French electro of his label mates. He has directly cited the music of Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Michael Jackson as being influential on this album, and it really isn’t much of a push to hear what he means. The King of Pop’s presence is unmissable, no more so than on ‘Arrested’ and ‘My Toy’ which sound like they could be revamped versions of previously unheard Jacko songs (thanks in no small part to long-time collaborator Irfane’s vocals). But there’s a lot more to the album than a misty-eyed recreation of the classic boogie sound. It cleverly toes the line between obvious nostalgia for ‘70s and ‘80s disco/funk, the archetypal Ed Banger production, and aspects of the neo-soul, R&B, and groovy hip-hop that has recently made the likes of Kaytranada and Soulection so popular.
It’s this variation that keeps your attention in what could otherwise become slightly repetitive over the course of the thirteen tracks, were it simply a disco/funk album done in the ‘French touch’ style. That’s not to say Berland doesn’t fall back on the comfortable production tropes of the genre - there are filters and phasers aplenty, and even a couple of frustratingly clichéd appearances from a robot voice effect. But for the most part this feels like a fresh edition of the tried and tested Breakbot and Ed Banger sound.
Most confusing about this album is the timing of its release. It feels strange listening to such a feel-good summer record with seemingly-unending rain and early evening darkness outside. Berland himself has described the album as ‘the perfect soundtrack for a last barbecue around a swimming pool’, which makes the early February release date even more puzzling. There’s no reason fans won’t still be playing ‘Still Waters’ when summer finally arrives, but for all its strengths we fear many listeners won’t have the album at the top of the pile in a few months’ time.
Words: James Kilpin
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