Bright Peaks and Deep Pits
The Toxic Avenger is French musician and producer Simon Delacroix, a man who is said to have once performed under masked cover — though he’s thankfully dropped that gimmick, probably after realizing that the masks are a waste of time for everyone but Daft Punk. He has a sound that’s fresh and fun with a tasteful throwback tint. Romance & Cigarettes, his third full-length album, is a record that is as fun as it is ambitious, and it goes places.
Toxic starts out on a quietly hard note, with abrasive synthesizer bass gradually sliding into a foreboding rhythm with alien melodic accompaniment that produces a very John Carpenter-esque sound, as though you’re about to escape from New York or get into some big trouble in Little China. However, this is a motif that doesn’t last long. Even towards the end of the two-minute intro “In the Beginning,” it’s clear that the record is moving in another direction with its bright strings and baroque arrangements.
Italo-disco breaks out in full force for the title track, with a retro-futuristic sound that lives on the brighter side. Throughout the record, Toxic bounces between the extremes of bright and romantic kitsch on the one hand, and a more mechanical aggression that comes through in tracks like “Chase (I & II)” and “Eyes.” Occasionally, the listener gets both of these flavors in the same dish, such as the meandering “In the Meantime/Run,” which starts with a new-wave pop tune that sounds like something out of Purple Rain before melting into a menacing apocalyptic anthem of smashing drums and robotic growls.
The Toxic Avenger’s layers of synth arpeggio and melody create a sound that’s consistently danceable, even with its schizophrenic jumps between tones and genres. Though some tracks run on the verbose side, pushing the minutes into times that seem to be beyond the music’s attention span, they rarely become boring. Romance & Cigarettes is an album that can’t hide its enthusiasm, and it has enough energy and variety to infect just about any ear.