Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu switch faces on the new EP, ‘Persona’
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Marie Davidson has been on a bit of a journey. Her take on synth driven techno was at once intriguing and charming, heightened by an extensive live hardware setup and unique spoken word approach. Flitting across her knobs and machines, her stage presence was at once enigmatic and affable as she spewed out a machine funk that felt grounded in the past but entirely concerned with the future. The breakout success of her seminal track Work It would go on to spawn an interminable remix by Soulwax, and for a moment the Canadian songwriter and producer became the sound of the underground and an essential icon for women in electronic music. 2019 marked a turning point when Davidson announced she would be retiring from live hardware club shows. Though not many details were divulged, Davidson had always been open about her opinions on club culture. 2016’s Adieux Au Dancefloor is a case in point, an album on which Davidson addresses her experience of toxic club spaces and its impact on her mental health. In the time following her departure from the dancefloor, Davidson would reconnect with fellow Canadians and long time friends, Pierre Guerineau and Asaël R. Robitaille. The artists had all followed similar journeys in electronic and alternative music, and their connection over a shared love for the craft of pop writing would forge an instant creative connection. Forming Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu to explore their shared musical interests, the collaboration culminated in last year’s lauded Renegade Breakdown. That album was a sort of rebirth for Davidson, a stunning left turn that presented an evolution of her sound and image toward something entirely unexpected but remarkably apt.
What became immediately apparent about Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu is the freedom the trio extends to each other to explore their loftier musical ambitions. Over the past year, the music on Renegade Breakdown has been reinvented constantly through an ongoing series of remixes and stunningly imagined live stream performances. Persona, their new EP for Ninja Tune which follows Renegade Breakdown, is entirely emblematic of this and perhaps to a fault. A three track concept EP, Persona finds itself fixated on Jungian psychology and the notion of the ’faces’ we put on to fit into various parts of life and society. As such, Persona is presented with three faces; that is, the same song performed in three distinct styles. The song itself is entirely in French, softly sung like a lilting lullaby in Davidson’s enchanting timbre.
The first version is a shoegaze take, full of fuzzy guitar textures and warm atmospherics that flow like dreamy watercolours behind Davidson’s voice. Persona BB is an electronic leaning version which finds itself adopting the aesthetics of 90’s trip-hop and nostalgia-soaked synth chords. The two versions are linked by an interlude which is designed to be played in loop in order to ‘escape.’ Both versions keep Davidson’s vocals and the melody intact, simply changing the mise-en-scene to reflect a different stylistic approach. It’s a trick that feels a bit half-formed, when taken against the thematic concerns of the EP. Speaking on these, Davidson revealed via her social media:
“When the band proposed to produce multiple arrangements of the song, I thought it was a brilliant idea, as it transcribes well the tensions between my onstage Persona as a performer, my online Persona as a musician and my actual Self, which is more gentle and fragile then what I show in my art.”
The tension that Davidson describes between these personas feels least explored here, with Persona (Interlude) marking the most significant turn of phrase for the song in its entirety. At most, the versions feel like faithful covers of each other. The Jungian archetype of the mask that the band seeks to explore doesn’t feel completely realised. Nothing about Persona the song is disguised, contorted or shape-shifted to fit a new form, it simply switches settings but keeps itself the same. In this regard, Persona really relies on a breakdown of the concept to support the music. In essence, it needs to explain itself in order to escape being classified as a throwback to the days when artists would release various mixes of the same song to appeal to disparate audiences. This is especially true considering the philosophy that Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu attempts to explore here seems better explored by their constant reinventions of Renegade Breakdown. Persona does gesture toward an exciting direction for the band though. Shoegaze encapsulates the most affable parts of their style. It’s a sound that Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu would likely find success in exploring further, perhaps this time sans the conceptual diatribe.
The EP is released with an excellent accompanying music video for the shoegaze version of Persona, designed from documentary like snapshots of Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu going about their daily lives as friends and bandmates. It elevates the experience of Persona, and also builds anticipation for the band’s upcoming tour which commences on September 2nd. Watch below.
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