By Fiona Spencer-Piacentini
Her is a French electro-pop duo that I first came across in the depths of revision last semester. With an upbeat, sensual optimism permeating their tracks “Five Minutes” and “Swim”, I was blissfully unaware that half of the duo, Simon Carpentier, had recently succumbed to a long battle with cancer. Before Simon died in August of last year, Her’s debut album was still in production, with the vocals of several tracks left unfinished. Victor Solf has seen to its completion, with “Her” released on March 30th.
The album has plenty of eclectic dichotomies: soft sensual jazz is paired with punchier rock elements incorporated with R&B. Given that their influences range from Marvin Gaye, AI Green, Shuggie Otis, James Blake, The XX, A$AP Rocky and Childish Gambino, it is unsurprising that Her’s music is diverse and cannot readily be categorised into any single genre. Her exploits fusion to great effect and the result is a playful yet strong attitude. Through their music, Her draw inspiration from the women in their lives, and seek to reflect their views. Although this is clearly an ambitious aim, in presenting sensuality and strength they evidently do justice to multiple facets of femininity.
Yet amidst these (genre) complexities, there is a sense in which Her are electro stripped down – in a 2015 interview for French music magazine, Les Inrockuptibles, the duo spoke of their aim to create a “bonne chanson avecs le moins d’éléments possibles”. Their minimalism is perhaps best embodied by their fondness for finger snapping, which features extensively on the album.
This minimalism affords a rawness to their music which in more poetic moments binds the listener and seemingly teleports them to a room only occupied by Her. Furthermore, it serves to deliver a message which can be most immediately be gleaned as living fully - staying true to yourself and those that you care about.
The album opens with the predominantly vocal, “We Choose”, a poetic commentary on our ability to assure our own legacy. It signifies the duo’s struggle and desire to finish their project: “We choose/ how we are remembered”. With this appreciation of life underway, finger snaps guide us straight into the uptempo “Five Minutes”. “Five Minutes” is Her’s most popular song to date, thanks to it featuring in a 15 second Apple commercial back in 2016. “Icarus” is slightly punchier, aside from a notably mellow vocal bridge. “Blossom Roses” is rich and velvety (appealing to fans of Banks, Jungle and Glass Animals). “On&On” is a collaboration with German rock band AnnenMayKantereit and French rapper Romeó Elvis; “On&On” is unique in comparison to other songs in that it features a blend of English and French lyrics. It is on this track that Her’s love of Kendrick Lamar is most apparent.
“Neighbourhood”, with its political lyrics about unity and peaceful toleration, particularly pops before the album’s interlude; a soulful, jazzy, muffled breather, “Trying”. It’s ooziness guides perfectly into the sensual “Quite Like”. “Quite Like” features lyrics that are zesty and undeniably French: “I quite like your breast / When you undress”. It’s a love poem, one that epitomises the band’s feminine influence and an appreciation of women in their entirety. Towards the close of the album comes the positively charming lyric: “I quite like you best/ When you care less”. I can envisage that fans of Chet Faker would appreciate this musically and lyrically. “Wanna Be You” features a funky guitar riff, with a strong beat, clapping and finger clicking producing a reminiscently soulful disco sound. It’s a song you might find yourself dancing in the kitchen to!
The influence of our globally turbulent political epoch on Her is evident in the opening of “Swim” - “swim against, swim against, against the tide, / Walk against, walk against, against the flow”. A bursting saxophone solo towards the end drives the message of individuality and integrity home.
“Good Night”, the longest song in the album, is slow and soothing. It is lyrically reflective, “Dry your tears and guide your inner light”, and again emphasises Simon’s instrument, the saxophone. Joint vocals on the line “Don’t lose hope” appropriately close out the track. The short poetic outro song, “For Him”, is ethereal and encapsulates Her’s minimalism. Presumably, it is sung by Victor about Simon: “I will handily attach my rope/ To your pilot boat”.
Although Her faces an uncertain future, their first, and potentially final, album is a precious delight. It is impossible not to catch yourself swaying under its seductively optimistic spell.