Madeon pairs hooky vocals with beats that could bulldoze buildings.
The French producer Madeon pairs hooky vocals with beats that could bulldoze buildings and might appeal to those who find the Max Martin school of pop too lightweight, not rock ’n’ roll enough. It’s not hard to connect him to Zedd, his contemporary around the time he put out his 2015 debut Adventure, or latter-day pop start-ups like Marshmello or the Chainsmokers. But to listen to Madeon is to marvel at how he’s essentially rebuilt this whole genre from scratch. His music feels big not in the metal-derived way of so much EDM this decade but in a way that appeals to the part of the brain that craves grandeur. You put him on for the same reason you put on “River Deep Mountain High,” and while so many pop acts today use the same variations of the I-vi-IV-V progression as Phil Spector’s girl groups, Madeon craves weird, unpredictable chords. He sounds like, and is, an EDM-pop DJ while providing a rebuke to the genre’s clichés.
He’s also a 25-year-old from Nantes who looks like he might weigh 120 pounds. He never lets us forget that fact. Look at the cover of his second album Good Faith: he looks like the kind of hoodlum you’d see smoking a blunt on the local park bench. And his voice, which appears here more often than on his guest-heavy debut. Like so many of his countrymen, he cites Daft Punk as one of his major influences, and he must’ve learned from “The Game of Love” that there’s something endearing about a robot with a French accent. He’s capable of surprising vocal acrobatics, but mostly he just dulls his voice with vocoders as if to shy away from the spotlight.
The idea, perhaps, is that the physical vessel of his body can’t contain the force of his vision. Good Faith is maximal in a joyful way rather than just a way that sounds good on big festival speakers. He’s either brilliant or terrible with money, so it’s either inspiring or perverse to hear him dial up the West L.A. Children’s Choir to act as a distant sample on “No Fear No More,” or conjure the biggest and best-sounding horns since Kanye’s All of the Lights to undergird the last 30 seconds of “Hold Me Just Because.” Though Madeon’s something of a veteran (he won his first remix competition at age 15), we can still hear the delight of a kid discovering he can produce the most preposterous sounds with just a few clicks; there’s no cynicism in this music.
Good Faith is about as interesting as this kind of music gets. The one thing holding it back from being a truly great album is that the songs aren’t that strong. His hooks aren’t that memorable, and his songs are defined more by dynamic peaks and valleys than tight writing. Good Faith also feels a little longer than it is. The pairing of the two short songs “Nirvana” and “Mania” creates a momentum that dissipates once they fade into “Miracle,” a haphazard piano ballad that’s the album’s worst track by several degree of magnitude. At the same time, its 35 minutes feel like more than enough to justify the wait, and if he takes another eternity between albums, we can feel confident he’s spending that time making the maximalist pop record of our dreams.