Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

Lous and the Yakuza – Amigo

Another amigo of the sidebar…


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William John: Lous and the Yakuza is Marie-Pierra Kakoma, a Congolese-born Brussels resident, anime fan, erstwhile painter, activist and the force behind Gore, a debut album released in October 2020. For those not well-versed in francophone pop, it’s perhaps easiest to frame any analysis of her music through that of the hugely successful Malian-French rapper Aya Nakamura, but Gore is far more dour and nihilistic then most of Nakamura’s well known work, and if the Spotify algorithm were to queue anything up after it finished, perhaps the likeliest thing would be “People, I’ve been sad“. The album features ruminations on solitude and the torment of being Black in an anti-Black world, and arrives at sombre conclusions that even my lapsed francophilia didn’t need a translator site to identify, like “une viе de merde c’еst juste une vie de merde“, or, simply, “tout est gore“. “Amigo” is, like much of Gore, disarmingly candid and bleak — she ends each chorus admitting, resignedly, that “life doesn’t provide any gifts,” and spends a lot of it literally crying for help — but two particular elements of the song offer at least the hope of somewhere more sanguine. The first is the bouncy production — courtesy of Rosalía collaborator El Guincho — and especially the manipulation of the chorus’ second “ohhhh!”, which seems to have been geared to activate the wiring in my brain that prompts me to rapturously wiggle my head while on a dancefloor. The second is the turn right before the last refrain, at the end of a gush of assonance and survivalist proselytising — “Oublions tout, oublions nous; la vie nous a rendu fous”, she notes, a surrender to the infinite madness of this planet, and delivered stoically, like she has accepted that so much of that madness is outside of her control. It’s a fatalistic, powerful, and almost drily humourous directive from one of pop’s most promising new prospects.
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John S. Quinn-Puerta: With equal measures of anger and sadness, this song cries for help from a world that refuses to slow down. I can’t help but be reminded of the time I spent unemployed and deeply depressed in late 2019, fighting with my own mind, surrounded by people who said they could and would help but could not fully understand just how deep I was buried. The sparse but driven beat feels exactly like forcing yourself to go to a house party while your world is burning, putting on a smile, serving cocktails, greeting friends. It’s a façade that you have to maintain, an effort you have to make to keep your friendships and relationships alive. Your anger, at the world, at your friends, at yourself, escapes as you move your hips.
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Katherine St Asaph: Brittle club music, its synths like thin bones and its hook over-sparse, less a chorus than an unending outro. Ideal for dancing to the sighs of your own regrets.
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Thomas Inskeep: Marie-Pierra Kakoma’s singing voice goes from low to high effortlessly, and is instantly appealing. Combine that with a toffee-sticky melody and some smart pop production and a skittery beat from El Guincho (best known for his work with Rosalía) and you get a single that can’t miss. The French-language fka twigs? Maybe.
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Will Adams: “Amigo” sports the same assured cool as “Malamente” — all gloomy synths and razor sharp percussion — but the real treat is the handful of voices Kakoma delivers. Smoky lower register, filigreed falsetto, Auto-Tune smeared exclamations, dusky spoken word: it’s all here. “Amigo” is deceptively simple, revealing more and more layers the closer you listen.
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Nortey Dowuona: Plunking synths are surrounded by circling bass and soft lumpy drums and thin papery percussion as Lous’s soft, creaking voice circles the snake of bass, synths and drums with additional raindrops of synths falling, with Lous draining out into a percussion heavy mix then evaporating from the raining synths.
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Harlan Talib Ockey: Kakoma’s narrator begins in a dusty haze, her voice still and remote even as the percussion lurches forward in crooked gasps. The whispered ad-libs hiss past like the ashes and flecks of drywall left behind after a demolition. As we hit the chorus, a rush of jagged synths and harshly AutoTuned wails beg her to wake up, desperately trying to drag her free from her apathetic reverie. While this may read like a straightforward narrative, it’s the twists and turns as the characters negotiate how to forge a vibrant existence in a brutal world that make “Amigo” truly worthwhile. Even the comforting force has no choice but to concede that “life does not give gifts”.
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Ian Mathers: More productions as sparse and lovely as this one should consider holding back their best bit as a chorus element. Not only does it really land the first time (I actually said “ooh, what’s this?” out loud) but there’s a pleasant anticipation on future listens just like there is for a good vocal hook… which I’m not sure “Amigo” fully lands, but also doesn’t really have to?
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Leah Isobel: Generally, I’m not huge on this kind of elegantly wasted gloom-pop, but I like the sardonic edge that Lous and the Yakuza brings to “Amigo.” When she repeats the verses up an octave, she navigates the high notes with enough ease to make the lyrics’ anguish feel like a bleak joke. The way she spits out the word “solo” at the end of the bridge doubles as excellent self-reference and a cracking of the veneer; while the music sounds isolated, she performs like someone who’s passed through loneliness, reflecting on it from a distance but still close enough to feel it beneath her skin. It’s the sound of acknowledging you feel like shit and stepping outside anyway.
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Michael Hong: French dance-pop has this detached quality, a sense of dryness that trickles through its vocal processing. Is it sincere? Is the resilience Lous and the Yakuza calls for singular or plural? When she drops the word “amigo,” is it in earnest or ironic? It’s hard to tell when the piano sounds like mourning, yet the beat suggests otherwise. The answer comes in the final verse, when suddenly “je” becomes “nous.” Oh no, did she say too much? “Amigo” immediately folds back. Back to its bouncy beat, back to the safety that French musicians seem to find the boundaries of dance-pop music.
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Andrew Karpan: A cool, gorgeous dance track that manages to make post-Drake trap drums sound melancholy and intimate, Lous and the Yakuza’s voice flits through beats from Spanish chillwave veteran El Guincho that sound as if they’ve been soaked in water for hours before being applied around the crisp and precise fragments of her voice. Only the song’s chorus, which warps her voice into quirky whistling chirping, seems to disappoint with its gushy optimism and limited idea of what a song can be.
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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Amigo” has so many good ideas it often feels like it’s interrupting itself. Marie-Pierra Kakoma’s vocal lines cut into each other, wordless exclamations breaking up melodic and rhythmic structures like she’s jamming her own radio transmissions. It’s thrilling to listen to — she climbs the platforms of El Guincho’s characteristically deft beat with a practiced, casual cool, daring you to follow along.
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Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “What are you most proud of?” Marie-Pierra Kakoma was asked in a Konbini interview this year. Her response? “To always speak about love, and to be heard.” It sounds like a diplomatic answer, but every song sung by Lous and the Yakuza really does read like a treatise about life’s most complicated emotions, packaged in a textured, rich aural and aesthetic package. “Amigo” is a marked example: At the acme of modern French language music, she inhibits every second with striking control, profuse emotion, and consummate elegance. 
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One Response to “Lous and the Yakuza – Amigo”

  1. “It’s the sound of acknowledging you feel like shit and stepping outside anyway.” What a (great) way to describe this.

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