reviewed by B. David Zarley | Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Objet Petit AThe milieu surrounding Nina Barnes’ (of Montreal) and Orenda Fink’s (Azure Ray) Harouki Zombi is strewn with unclassifiable classifications, such as “a neo-pathetic cabaret” and a “hedonistic celebration for the fallen empire,” and it is easy to believe that, artistic license and purposeful obtuseness aside, these seemingly non-sequitur descriptions came about because it is in reality quite fucking difficult to describe Zombi as anything else.

A deft assembly of textures, sounds, and vocals, it is of the Purity Ring school of creationist electronic music, but is far too visceral to fit in a similar, dark space. Objet Petit A carries the black velvet vibes of UK goth pop, but is too drenched in dystopian sunshine and too negligent in classic pop song craft for the label to be apt. Paradoxically, it is also too pop accessible to be relegated to some sort of avant garde art-pop umbrella. Including into consideration the visual art elements that Barnes provides for Zombi’s DJ sets, one is inevitably drawn to the conclusion that this Harouki Zombi structure perhaps really is something that is best described as a hedonistic, baroque, fallen cabaret, albeit one that sounds far more fun than its name would suggest; the title is classification by elimination, and patently useless anyway, but criticism is lost without labels.

Objet Petit A opens with a simple, heavy beat, decorated with ghostly whimpers and breathy vocals that expand into a candy-coated Gallic hook that arises from the guttural rumblings and delicate lattice work below it. “Objet” is a French maid of a song, replete with the classic, lust-inspiring accouterments, encountered in the modern art wing among the disturbing paintings, the Rothkos and Pollocks and Klines, of the same chaotic abstractedness as them but maintaining an approachable, comely guise, despite the surrealism inherent in her nature.

Less challenging but equally enthralling is “Soldier’s Gun,” which moves away from the whispered francaise of the opener and moves into a more recognizable, straightforward electro-pop treatment. Low-end synths provide a roiling boil to a classic hop-step drum line, and great swaths of the sound are dropped away in multiple breakdowns. The slinking fever dream of “Vacated Hunters”¬† begins flighty, offbeat and cute, Manic Pixie Dream Girl music, before unexpectedly blossoming into an opulent decadence laced with slight traces of gossamer nihilism and existential crisis.

The most approachable track is also the least endearing, as “Swamp Theme” proves to be quite aptly named; it is basically an anthem, in the classic dance floor sense, one whose primary purpose is to whip bodies into motion, to create mascara tears and closed eyes, open lips and opened inhibitions, a purpose which, while noble in most situations and one that is often underrated in critical aspects, seems below Objet Petit A, which, up to that point, had made a point of being perhaps a most un-intuitively¬† danceable non-dance dance album. Let it be clear that “Swamp Theme” is not necessarily a bad song or a blight on Objet; indeed, it is quite the opposite. When the least palatable cut is one that trades well in its form and is as infectious as ebola, it stands more as a testament to the strength of its surroundings than to its own shortcomings.

Also included on the EP are two remixes of the eponymous track, one a worthy re-imagining and the other a forgettable exercise in the traditional plastic enhancements. If the original “Objet” carries shades of abstract expressionism, the Awards remix is a Patrick Nagel painting, dark and glossy, lacquered and simple in its structure, which begins with a tidal swelling before dissolving into a skeletal breakdown and welcoming the sweeping sounds back at its conclusion.¬† Whereas Award swings to and fro like a danse macabre, the Deniallabs remix grafts a classic drum line onto its similarly stripped down treatment of the original. Much like “Swamp Theme,” the Deniallabs remix is not a bad song, per se, it just suffers in comparison to its brethren.

“Fallen” is perhaps the word that best describes Harouki Zombi and Objet Petit A; fallen in a sense that they have descended to the bottom of the world and there found freedom, which is embraced with an air of Aestheticism and Decadence. This is the soundtrack to the fin de siecle.

(Polyvinyl Record Co., 206 N. Randolph Street, Suite M100, Champaign IL 61820)

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