There’s been a lot of talk around the water cooler regarding Fort Romeau’s sophomore long player, Insides and the word that’s been on everybody’s lips is ‘anticipated’. Insides establishes the UK based artist firmly in the ranks of Ghostly International’s impressive archives, which include Matthew Dear, after two impressive EPs on the same label. The album follows on from 2012’s Kingdoms (100% Silk) with a sound that has stayed remarkably true to its original, over the short recording career of the artist also known as Michael Greene. It stands as testament to the confidence of the artist, in electronic music’s continuously variable temperament.
At the heart of Insides lies a disco sensitive sound with a progressive house development, summed up in full on the second track Folle. After New wave lays the foundation in a visceral encounter that grows and eventually flowers into delay soaked synthesisers and beats, Folle takes the reigns and establishes the album firmly as dance record. Harp like plucked synthesis are emphasised on the beat with snappy kick drums and syncopated high hats. Breathy vocals and pads subdue the disco-infused machine bass that loves loitering around the offbeat. The themes of these different elements, like Greene’s musical career stay true to their original throughout offering little in the way of melodic variation, while at the same time it maintains the sense of development that progressive music often lacks. This is best summed up on Lately; a beat less track that is little more than sequenced synthesiser running through an immovable pattern. Fort Romeau opts on this occasion to explore the sonic plateau of the singular in a way that creates the impression of swimming through calm waters. It is this progressive nature of the music that makes it very hard to describe the consequence in objective terms outside of the language of human emotions. As a result, Insides often comes across as a living organism.
All I want is the star attraction on an album already established as a dance record. Breathy synths and intuitive melodies give the impression of a conscious being, trapped in a machine, while a stationary piano riff and high-pitched violin, holding its ground indefinitely, avoids form in favour of function. It’s this contrast between the instinctive and the controlled that FR manages to manipulate masterfully. The synthesised bass and beat never betrays the dance floor aesthetic, while other elements like pads and pianos clouded in delay add the depth that so often is best described through an emotive state.
On the title track this comes together in a beautifully sensual deep house arrangement that avoids the gaudy vocal sample – the only vocal on the whole album is supplied an ambiguous vocoder on Not Word – that often infects the genre. It’s more rounded as an artistic endeavour as such, with the emphasis on development rather than a prescribed formula. Insides evolves without losing the focus on the central theme, the thing that keeps the listener tuned in. There are some spectacular moments on the album, when you are encouraged to believe the song has reached its conclusion, before it goes off into a new direction without losing touch with the crux of the song. My personal favourite occasion of this was the opening song just before the drums come in. And it never looses that focus as a dance record either. It’s carried right through to the end with the ultimate song Cloche. Sparkling synthesisers and bells light up the stage in a dense array of patterns, which eventually falls away into an energetic kick drum, closing off the album in the same dance aesthetic that’s run concurrently through it. It’s an embellished end that first arrived disguised as simple coda with Fort Romeau applying his signature touch again, taking the listener on a journey via a detour.
It keeps Insides interesting and more significantly it keeps House music interesting. Fort Romeau has breathed new life into a genre that has saturated itself and overwhelmed its listeners in its many tawdry forms. Insides offers a fresh point of view for House music and its many subsidiaries, but at the same time it’s completely unique to Fort Romeau, a sound that has been established long before this album. It’s a sound that is anchored in the dance format but swells around an aesthetic that transcend words in favour of a feeling. For once all that talk has finally delivered something substantial and I’m inspired to hang around the water cooler more often in the future.