Jonathan Boulet – We Keep The Beat, Found The Sound, See The Need, Start The Heart
Sydney wunderkind Jonathan Boulet arrived with a bang in the form of his self-titled 2009 debut on Modular. His reputation as one of the most promising emerging talents in Australian music was cemented in 2010 with the release of Parades’ debut record Foreign Tapes with Boulet’s propulsive and frantic beats pairing magnificently with the band’s rich, melodic and endlessly layered sound. Continuing the Modular trend of innovative but palatable pop, Boulet’s second solo record, the lengthily named We Keep The Beat, Found The Sound, See The Need, Start The Heart, sees him expanding and refining a style now recognisable as uniquely his.
Opener You’re A Animal kicks things off with a surge of tribal drums and crashing waves of sound, the most immediately noticeable aspect being the more ‘major label’ production values, though this progression has not come at the cost of sacrificing the visceral power of Boulet’s style. This Song Is Called Ragged pairs African idiophones with more conventional instruments and once again ensures a powerful and memorable chorus is the track’s centrepiece. An Indonesian gamelan ensemble even makes an appearance in the track’s closure, emblematic of Boulet’s cultural diversification on We Keep The Beat…
The interesting song structure of FM AM CB TV allows Boulet to effectively showcase the dynamics of his music, juxtaposing rapid-fire sonic bombardments with spacious ambient sections. The track’s most memorable lyrics, “You lost the right to choose” and “You’re dead and you’re ignored”, obliquely allude to bitterness and discontent, fitting well with its fractured dynamics. The discordant opening of Hallowed Hag distantly recalls the sonic palettes of Boulet’s hardcore outfit Snake Face, before evolving into an urgent and evocative track once again lyrically alluding to unrest and suggesting all is perhaps not well in the Boulet-sphere.
If the ‘Boulet sound’ could be distilled into a single track, it would perhaps best be represented in the form of Dread Is This Place. Simultaneously capturing a melodic sense of both the joyous and the melancholic, Irish flutes sit comfortably alongside strummed acoustic guitars, skittering drums, emotive vocal harmonies and rapid handclaps buried deep in the mix. It is a reflection of Boulet’s remarkable ability to synthesise disparate influences and create a sound both wholly individual and undeniably catchy. Mangle Trang’s stadium sized ‘whoa-oh-oh’ vocal lines, reverb drenched Foals-esque guitars and cavernous drums combine to create a moment as big as anything Boulet has done before.
Boneyard Home sees the reappearance of marimba sounds and staccato lead guitar lines, with the temporary nature of contentment once again evoked through the line “Cause our summertime is just about to end”. The schizophrenic Trounce is a vocal-driven piece punctuated by grimy punk flourishes. The repeated mantra of “I do what I’m told/I just don’t know any better” is a criticism directed at the ‘mindless masses’, though this path is a well-trodden one. The blues-tinged Black Smokehat is an album highlight, its haunting melody and ‘fast forward’ mid-section among the record’s most memorable moments.
The amusingly titled Keep Away You Feral Son Of A Bitch explodes into life at full pace and barely lets up, with the lyric “It’s all real/You’re a fake” rattling around one’s eardrums long after the track finishes. Piao Voca Slung is another example of Boulet’s combination of the sounds explored on his debut with newer African influences, with the track’s soaring choruses feeling a bit like ‘M83 unplugs his synths and goes on holiday to Benin’. Even though by the time it ends it feels as if the ultimate catharsis is over, there is still time for the epic near-nine-minute Cent Voix, a hypnotic a cappella piece with reverb laden vocal lines that build upon and weave between each other. The track feels somewhat like a soundtrack for the icy burial seeming to be taking place on the record’s front cover, a stark, haunting image featuring a pale, emaciated figure appearing to be on the cusp of death.
It is tempting to view We Keep The Beat… as the maturation of Jonathan Boulet, but in reality that occurred long ago, before even the release of his debut. But although the emotional richness beyond his tender years was already evident, We Keep The Beat… sees this power and singular identity distilled into something even stronger and more memorable than before. Boulet’s sonic ambition is undeniable – the vast array of stylistic nods and disparate ephemera scattered through this record is impressive, but rather than feeling overly insular and alienating, the record seems to carry a uniting power, bringing together cultures and walks of life over a shared sense of feeling and emotion. Most excitingly, We Keep The Beat… proves that Boulet’s spark is nowhere close to extinguishing – in fact it only continues to burn brighter.