L'Impératrice Sound More Like Themselves Than Ever on 'Pulsar'

BY Matthew TeklemariamPublished Jun 12, 2024


If they were actually played in clubs this side of the Atlantic, L'Impératrice would likely be a darling. The French-French dance group make the kind of groovy tunes that keep your world turning so you can continue looking to the stars. The sextet's music is spacey, the mood breezy. Sometimes, they're too slick for any character to stick. Other times, their prog-lite diversions are so playful they practically frolic, along with a formidable core of airtight performers. Their stock has dropped a little this decade since Top 40 went Studio 54 to thunderous acceptance, but purist groups like L'Impératrice should always be cherished when the cool kids take their jokes, lest they stop making them. And yes, there is a Daft character to the group beyond La Marseillaise and general mellifluousness, but never are they so far away with their horizons.

The challenge for a group this well-trained after a decade together is to be anything other than excellent background music, though it's the ultimate fate of music of this ilk. Not many disco LPs remain in the public consciousness, but that never suited the form anyway. Last album Tako Tsubo touted maximalist production and city-pop sheen. But now L'Impératrice are producing themselves. The choice to hire more co-conspirators was strange for a band so economical with their music, though a pair of collaborative non-album singles showed promise. The last outing showed adaptability and influence; what now?

Now, the group lock in and don't let up with Pulsar. Opener "Cosmogonie" takes you into a familiar orbit before blasting off with some digital love and irresistible rhythm. No words needed on this one, but they say plenty. The new direction is forward in both thinking and chronology. The cymbal crashes are truncated, exposing their synthetic nature. "Amour Ex Machina" is a confident step forward into spirited territory, with a great lyrical hook ("Robots cry, too, sometimes"). It's that attuned vision they've had before, but hungrier than ever for the highs of boogie fever.

On "Me Da Igual," the curt nature of the French language is used to great effect when lyrical lines are tightly bound to the rhythm section. It's so leisurely upbeat, every strum of the guitar feels like it's just up for the down stroke. A lush, paranormal piece on heartache and tri-lingual totem later, Maggie Rogers guest-stars on an elegy with classical strings. Her inclusion on preeminent single "Any Way" feels like a slight betrayal on the part of the band to vocalist Flore Benguigui, even if they let her sing on the chorus. Rogers is so tonally seductive; this is the only track where the instruments are beholden to the glory of the vocals. It's lean meat like this that a disco album needs, bursting through its wax groove. And then best-track-rival "Deja-vue" goes for bedroom guitar sensuality, courtesy of Achille Trocellier in a standout mark. A rumbling synth bassline gives it an affirmative warmth. Even titular closer "Pulsar" shines, the glitched-out breakdown culminating in a supernova.

Every track is worth mentioning here because it's all distinctive, an achievement in and of itself within the genre. Yes, L'Impératrice are now operating in a mode more singular than ever before, eclectic tourism of their early years curtailed. They're perhaps more involved in their own sound on account of it. 


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