'Room With A View' Review: French electronica artist Rone's captivating new album explores humanity's issues
The French electronica artiste Erwan Castex aka Rone is well known among discerning music fans for his innovative works of art and creative collaborations in recent years with people as diverse as climate change activist Greta Thunberg and Bryce Dessner of rock band The National. His fifth studio album, 'Room With A View' was released this weekend on Friday, April 24, and it marks a watershed moment in the Frenchman’s career. 'Room With A View' sees Rone returning to his musical roots — the album was purely electronic, and composed by him alone, a deliberate choice on his part. But Rone still had plenty of artistic collaborations in the works for this new album, specifically from the world of dance.
'Room With A View' was produced along with a live show commissioned by the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and developed with the thought-provoking choreography collective (LA) HORDE and 20 dancers from the Ballet National de Marseille. This new collaborative approach allowed Rone to produce his most heartfelt and topical music to date. Inspired by discussions of collapsologie (a French school of thought that predicts the end of the world) and climate change, 'Room With A View' explores some of the most pressing issues of humanity while remaining an entertaining piece of modern dance and organic electronic music in its own right.
The opening track 'Lucid Dream' is warm and ambient, with washy synthesizer sounds over a steady background pulse. Rone sets up a vintage, nostalgic mood as he delves into this Aphex Twin-inspired soundscape. The music fades out with an audio sample, one of several field recordings that Rone employed in the making of this album.
'La Marbrerie' aka French for "The Marble" comes next. Referring to a live show that had dancers performing around blocks of cut marble, this track is a very strong call-back to another of Rone's influences, Boards of Canada. The simple, bright melody that rides on top of waves of detuned synths and glitchy beats are highly reminiscent of BOCs 'Campfire Headphase' era.
'Sophora Japonica' is the album’s third track and this proves to be a lively affair. A sequencer-driven arrangement, Rone blends an upbeat cyclical melody using a string section as the track's backbone. It also serves as a fantastic musical interlude leading up to a marked change in the tempo of the album.
'Ginkgo Biloba' actually debuted earlier in March as a collaboration with Sarah Al Atassi. The looping melodic motif, accompanied by an energetic syncopated dub beat works well with the music video. It examines a compulsion for the excess, with an explosion of sounds and colors drawing the audience into a saturation of the senses. The track in a way sums up Rone’s music — it's lively and compelling, yet thoughtful and brooding at the same time.
'Nouveau Monde' aka "Modern World" samples a conversation between French writer Alain Damasio and scientist Aurelien Barrau as they contemplate Earth's imminent end. “We live in times where facts don’t seem to matter much anymore” is a timely observation about our post-truth world. “It doesn’t have to be the end of the world, but we need to wake up: It’s just a matter of consuming a little less, damn it,“ concludes Damasio. The song starts off with a looping etude that slowly expands on traditional club sensibilities. Meanwhile, Rone underlines the urgency in Damasio’s words with cascading lines that underpin the main melodic motif and it's both interesting and introspective.
The title track 'Room With A View' is one of the album standouts. Rone marries some contemplative synth work with his love of the sequencer to deliver an immersive track that completely shuns beats. It’s cheerful but melancholic electronica, all the while teasing his listeners with a palette of sounds that span acoustic and electronic realms.
'Le Crapaud Doré', marks a distinct departure with Rone incorporating an ambient melody to back up a zither that tells a beautiful contemplative story. It's Rone's attempt to get the listener to pause and question the breakneck speed at which we live our lives. The sound of a heaving breath at the end of the track further emphasizes this sentiment.
‘Liminal Space’ goes from an almost neutral atmosphere to a pulsating rhythmic motif that throbs into life before fading away. The track is a sonic reset in terms of the flow of the album and is another example of how easily Rone skips between lush, contemplative synthesizer strokes, and dub based grooves.
This artistry is best exemplified in the track 'Human', which debuted with a video back in January. The video features Rone himself busy at work, hunched over his gear while a camera hovers above him, before panning out to show a choir joining in with the chorus. In a simple yet powerful visual representation of what a musician ultimately aims for, Castex manages to use his tools to reach out to his audience via the choir in a fantastic musical piece.
'Babel' is another album standout that was birthed out of a collaboration with 20 dancers of the Ballet National de Marseille troupe. The dancers were invited by Rone to indulge in a delicious cacophony of cuss words whose real meaning is eclipsed by the tonal musicality. “I wanted to translate an energy, a feeling of urgency just with organic sounds of violins and synthesizers," Rone was quoted as saying in an official press release. “It marks a transition, the passage from a slow and hard moment to a solar moment, a positive energy where the bodies rise up in an anarchic and combative movement," he added.
While Rone had the dancers using their voices in 'Babel', in 'Esperanza', he has their feet doing the talking. "During the intro, one can hear the footsteps of the dancers of the Ballet National de Marseille walking in rhythm and giving a quasi-military pace to the track. I like the fighting spirit this pace gives the track. With the current crisis, we hear a lot that the world will never be the same. I agree with this sentiment, and hope sincerely that a better world can come out of it. 'Esperanza' is my tribute to this army of salvers, those who are fighting for a better world," said Rone.
The penultimate track, 'Raverie', sees Rone infuse field recordings and samples into Aphex Twin-esque synth strokes. Rone’s sound sways effortlessly between ambient electronic and hard-hitting sample play, punctuated with a very distinct tonality. The bristling synthesizer play on this track is instrumental in adding a dimension of unpredictability, as Rone keeps the listener on the edge whilst sticking to a simple throbbing beat.
The closing track 'Solastalgia' is another ambient overture, peppered with voice samples of Rone's own child, conveying a sense of humanity's disconnection from their natural environment. In a tip of his hat to an earlier collaboration with Thunberg on 'Nature Now', Rone wraps up the album by encouraging a reconnection with Nature. 'Solastalgia' serves as the ultimate track to an album that’s equal parts beautiful and melancholic — it's colorful and peppy, yet serious and somber at the same time.
While 'Room With A View' may have numerous personal connotations for Rone, it's ultimately connected to how we observe phenomena in the modern world. Whether through small screens or social networks, everyone is an observer. Every single person has their own unique perspective on the world, along with the power to change it, and that's what Rone helps us ponder with this brand-new offering constructed from his own creative artistic viewpoint.