By special guest blogger Barnaby Thornton.
In their hearts Sebastian Lee Philipp and Valerie Renay of Noblesse Oblige will always be more David Lynch than David Guetta – but for 4th album ‘Affair Of The Heart’, the Berlin based duo have left their electro-art-punk days behind and started afresh, with a brand new sound that’s tightly polished to shiny titanium perfection…
The album kicks off with the two recent singles ‘Mata Hari’ and ‘Runaway’; the first inviting you into the dark and dramatic world of a famous exotic dancer and spy…with bubbling trip hop beats, Middle Eastern strings and Bollywood samples. The latter, an electro-romp of epic 80’s proportions with an accompanying video directed by Chris Corner of Sneaker Pimps/IAMX notoriety.
What follows are 8 more astounding tracks that reach out to fans of the iconic Eurythmics, Visage and Tears for Fears, while also harnessing the grandiose flair of Hurts, the otherworldliness of Austra and The Knife, plus a certain sense of self-irony:
‘Burn’ shimmers like heat haze, with a beat best suited to tearing along the tarmac in a tropical thunderstorm. Charged with exotic and rebellious electricity, it’s the soundtrack to two fugitives chasing danger and romance with the rooftop down, sunglasses on and wind in their hair. The song even begs for an “I Feel Love” mash-up, as Valerie’s vocals pierce coolly through the disco mist, with enough Donna Summer swooping/soaring to keep you humming way beyond barbecue season.
If ‘Burn’ promises to ignite dance floor romance, then ‘Chasing Shadows’ willingly stands alone in the corner, waiting for heartbreak with an ice pick in hand. The duo’s breathy and melancholic vocals bring with them the Berlin winter…their icy harmonies delivering sadness with seductive synchronicity. Accompanied by the slow quavering of a theremin and melodica, the song becomes increasingly haunting despite its glistening synths; rising out of your frozen speakers like trees hidden in the tundra.
Next up, ‘Break Your Heart’ explodes like a kaleidoscope filled with dynamite, sending colourful shards of kitsch euphoria in every direction. Teetering between the lines of sweet and sadistic, it’s Noblesse Oblige’s boldest pop production yet, a fun & radio-friendly anthem that demands attention with every cotton candy note. Once again you can hear the power of Sebastian and Valerie’s dream-inducing harmonies, as their voices sail back and forth over a backdrop of flirtatious synths, majestic strings and a clever sample from a speech that only stirs your emotions further…
‘Vagabonde’ is another playful number, sung cheekily in French from start to finish. Similarly to ‘In The Heat of the Night’, it harks back to Noblesse Oblige’s earlier work with fond feelings of familiarity.
‘The Seventh Wave’ is perhaps my favourite off the album. And not just because it starts with the impression that it’s going to be an homage to Depeche Mode circa Black Celebration or Some Great Reward…It’s the antithesis of Break Your Heart’s giddy playfulness, conveying a darker, gothier side to the duo’s personal pop cosmos.
Sebastian’s hypnotically deadpan vocals float over stark electronics, delivering a ghostly narrative of souls lost at sea, while Valerie’s words linger spectrally beneath him. Then, at the 3-minute mark, the whole soundscape suddenly surges against your chest, building into one of the album’s most achingly beautiful arrangements. Vocals echo over a textural swell (forgive all the puns) of blinking synths and siren’s chant, before fading out rather forlornly. By this point, the song is already well and truly lodged in your head, heart and stomach – and welcomingly so.
After a wholly unique cover of the Eagles’ classic ‘Hotel California’ (in which Valerie’s dramatic reading of the lyrics successfully amplifies the eeriness of the original) the album closes with the dreamlike ‘Voices In My Head’, a dark yet uplifting finale that spellbinds over six minutes of layered & effected vocals…‘I’m calling can you hear?” sing the duo, their voices rising out of the gloom like sonic beacons. But in the final moments of this phenomenal record, all I can hear is the sound of a million beating hearts reaching to hit repeat.